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Two Books, Two Stars
Two magical books topped off our April reading, both earning starred reviews.
The Golem and the Jinni is a mash-up of Jewish and Arab folklore, historical fiction and fantasy, new and old world sensibilities. Helene Wecker’s debut seems destined to be among the best of the year. The publisher has certainly gone all-out. The physical package is richly gorgeous, the pages tipped in a deep, mysterious navy, with a cover painting evoking old New York.
HarperCollins has shared a series of clips from an interview of the author by Barbara Hoffert of Library Journal on the Library Love Fest youtube page. One striking moment is the author’s central concern of the novel being the “pull between tradition, tradition toward your family expectations and obedience in that way and on the other hand self-determination, striking out on your own and making decisions about your path.” The golem and the jinni have opposing viewpoints on these issues, so these are what “create sparks between them.” Needless to say, teens can relate, both with this and the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land.
The author also did a great deal of research on New York at the turn of the century, and speaks about about where the research ends and the jump to the imagination begins.
Joe Hill just keeps getting better. I reviewed Horns a few years ago, and it made our 2010 best of the year list. His latest, NOS4A2, was released yesterday, and it is a masterful, thrilling read combining horror and fantasy. It has natural appeal for teen readers, not only because of its pacing and the controlled excellence of its story-telling, but also because of the main character, Vic (aka “The Brat”), and the use of Christmas as a subject of horror. What teen isn’t going to grin at that idea? Until they get to Christmasland, that is. Positively creepy!
Another reason I like this for teens is that, yes, Joe Hill is a horror writer. But this is not terrifying horror. Even those teens who shy away from the genre might be persuaded to give NOS4A2 a try. There are some really scary moments, there is plenty of dread, there is a bad guy kidnapping children, but much of the novel is about Vic’s mysterious special ability, her conflicts with her parents, and her attempts to find her way as a young adult after she leaves home. And for all its darkness, Hill has a really good time telling his story.
For example, there’s Maggie the librarian. Maggie is described as “a punk rock Keebler elf.” She wears a pair of earrings made of scrabble tiles, one F, one U. She tells Vic, “No one looks too closely at a librarian. People are afraid of going blind from the glare of so much compressed wisdom.” I think Mr. Hill is a fan. Well, except that the events of the novel pretty much do her in…
Adult/High School–As a new century looms in the autumn of 1899, a most mysterious pair of immigrants appears in New York. Chava is a golem conjured as a wife for an immigrant who died en route to America and Ahmad is a jinni freed from centuries-long captivity by a tinsmith repairing an heirloom lamp. These treacherous creatures of Jewish and Arab myth possess supernatural powers that they can’t always control. The golem, an obedient servant made from earth, has prodigious physical strength and can hear the thoughts of those around her. The jinni, made from fire, appears human, yet is indifferent to human restraint. Within their respective immigrant neighborhoods, each is considered an outsider–secretive and strange, unlike any other. They meet to form an unusual and touching friendship as they navigate the challenges of a new world and battle the dabbler in the dark arts who knows their origins and yearns to use them in order to gain his own immortality. Filled with memorable characters and a backstory that spans a millennium, The Golem and the Jinni is a historical novel imbued with the kind of folk-tale sensibilities that make the fantastical seem not only plausible, but commonplace. That is to say, it is difficult to categorize. Teens will discover a book unlike any they’ve read and will readily empathize with its central characters struggling to create an identity, fit in, and belong. Fans of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (Doubleday, 2010) and those undaunted by epic tales will be thrilled with this ingeniously conceived novel.–John Sexton, Greenburgh Public Library, NY
Adult/High School–Vic McQueen is nine years old in 1986, the first time she rides through the Shorter Way Bridge behind her family’s house in rural Massachusetts on her Raleigh Tough Burner bike to find something that has been lost. By 1991, and many trips later, Vic is desperate to find someone to tell her she’s not crazy. A ride through the Bridge takes her to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Maggie, a librarian whose scrabble tiles tell her things. This time they tell Maggie that Vic could use her bike to find The Wraith. Vic has never heard of it, but Maggie knows about the man who drives the 1938 black Rolls-Royce Wraith, license plate NOS4A2, kidnapping children and using them up. She knows all about Charlie Manx, that he takes the children to Christmasland, from which they never return. Maggie begs Vic not to pursue Manx, but years later, after a terrible fight with her mother, Vic runs away from home looking for trouble. The Shorter Way delivers her straight to Manx’s house. After a horrible confrontation during which she tries to rescue Manx’s latest young victim, she escapes. Years later, it is only to save her son that Vic confronts Charlie Manx one more time in Christmasland itself. This is Hill’s best novel yet, perfectly paced and tailor-made for teens. Its courageous, rebellious heroine devotes herself to ridding the world of a terrifying monster, using a power that slowly erodes her sanity. NOS4A2 is as much dark fantasy and thriller as horror, and the genre blend will appeal to fans of all.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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