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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Flashback June 2005

As a brief reminder, I’m flashing back to reviews from years past. Here is what I was reviewing in June 2005:

The Order of the Poison Oak by Brent Hartinger. My review:It’s summer, and Russel has left town for a summer job in the mountains, working as a counselor for a sleepover camp. Part of the attraction of the job: he is tired of being “that gay kid who started the Gay Straight Bisexual Alliance.” It’s not that Russel wants to escape people knowing he is gay; he wants to escape being known only for being gay. Also at camp are his two best friends, Gunnar, who is straight but clumsy with girls, and since he’s in the Alliance everyone at school now assumes he’s gay; and Min, who is confident and outspoken and bi. . . . .  TOotPO is about romance; about falling in lust and falling in love and how the two aren’t the same; it’s about friendship and love and what happens when friendship gets in the way of love and vice versa. And it’s about independence and becoming oneself. And it’s about how growing up means becoming less self centered.” We can all be thankful I eventually stopped doing “only the initials of the book not the full name” in reviews. Let’s pretend that’s like my 1980s perm: best never mentioned again.

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley. My review: “Castle Waiting is sophisticated; it doesn’t show or tell everything. There is a long wait to the mystery behind Jain’s leaving her home, and even when you do find out, questions remain. This GN asks, “what happens after ‘happily ever after,’” but it doesn’t answer the question. It just takes you along the journey.” This is my first “Plot” and then “The Good” but I wasn’t quite consistent with that usage.

A Room On Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson. My review: “Zoe, her mother, her grandmother, Opal (who owns the house with the room), Zoe’s friends and teachers, are full characters. Pearson does an exceptional job of creating a living, breathing person with a handful of words. She also creates heart-achingly flawed, human, realistic people. Zoe’s tug-of-war with herself about her obligations towards her mother are understandable and believable, because her mother is more than just a selfish drunk..”

Yes, this is practically the entire review but it was one of my favorite books of 2005 and remains one of my favorite books, period.

Back to the review: “All to often in fiction, both Young Adult and adult, there is the “evil parent”, the one who has failed to be a good parent because of (fill in the blank: career, drugs, spouse, selfishness). The “bad parent” is one-note, to the point where I stop believing the story is “real” because seldom, in the real world, are people one-note; another problem with the “bad parent” character is that the parent is usually so over-the-top bad no one in their right mind would stick around, so the main character who does so looks less. I lose patience with the characters and the story itself.

Pearson avoids both these pitfalls beautifully. This is how “bad parents” need to be written: whole. Flawed. No excuses. Mama has problems, but there is more to Mama than her problems. Full characterization is one of the many reasons that while Zoe has problems in her life, this is not a “problem novel.”

Another good point about this novel is that it is believably set in a working class environment. The struggle for money is real, and the impact of no money is real. Zoe lets you know how much is rent; how much for food; how much for school activities. Zoe is not playing at being a grown up.”

Keys to the Kingdom by Garth Nix, first three books in the series:Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday. My review: “Nix has created a complex world that is bizarre, strange, familiar, exciting, dangerous, and consistent. I have no idea if Nix is a “plotter” or “plunger” when it comes to writing, but I’ll say this: the world of the House, the Far Reaches, the Border Seas is Real. There may be contradictions; but there are no inconsistencies. At no point do you feel, “OK, now you’re just making stuff up” or even worse, “Hey, that’s not what you said about the Fetchers in Book One.” Nix makes you believe that the world of Keys to the Kingdom does exist, because how else could it be so full? Also good are the many literary and religious references.”

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

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