Monday, March 17, 2014

2014 Awards Reading Report #1: Two Creepy Ones

I'm actually at 5 for 11 in my "personal challenge" to read the ten 2014 Alex Award winners and the 2014 Printz Award winner.   I've read Lexicon, Help for the HauntedThe Lives of Tao, Mother, Mother, and Midwinterblood.  Today I'm going to tell you about the most recent two -- one compelling, one interesting, and it just so happens that both are kind of creepy.

Mother, Mother was a book I really didn't want to read.  The description --  a "terrifying and page-turning story of a mother’s love gone too far" --  plus author Koren Zailckas' earlier memoir (Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood), and comparisons to the horror/suspense of Shirley Jackson and Daphne DuMarier made me shy away.  I plan to finish out a long life without ever seeing Mommy Dearest, thank you very much.

So it was with some anxiety that I picked it up one Sunday night, needing something to read and pushing myself past stand-by favorites.  Turns out, anxiety was warranted, but not the way I'd feared.  Mother, Mother is gripping and compelling, and I stayed up way too late that night and the next immersed in and captivated by the Hurst family's disintegration.

The Hursts are an seemingly average family of five.  Mom Josephine is strict and runs a tight ship, while Dad seems to be fading from the picture. Being absolutely perfect in every way hasn't precluded college-aged Rose from running away with a mysterious boyfriend - and she's been very good at hiding her trail.  Without Rose, the mortar holding the rest of the family together starts to crumble.  The novel is told in the alternating viewpoints of middle child Violet, who's now trying to be as imperfect as possible, and the youngest, awkward 12-year-old Will, recently diagnosed with Asperger's  (his mother shopped a lot of doctors for the desired opinion).   After a drug-induced violent episode, Violet is in the psych ward and the target of her mother's frustrations, and Will falls more and more under his mother's sway, as ally and lackey.  Dad ignores all while focused on saving himself.

The suspense and horror in the book are in the actions, not the telling of the actions.  I found it surprising and interesting that, for a story with such huge emotional episodes, the tone for both narrators is rather dispassionate and observational, as though they were reporting what they saw but not how it felt.  There is no physical abuse, really, so the reader begins to understand the emotional abuse only through its repetition.  With the gradual discovery of tricks and lies, and a grim enjoyment of cruelty, we realize there is no saving this mom.  Will the other four find a way out?  How far will Josephine go -- how far has she already gone? -- to maintain control, and continue to be a perfect wife and mother in her own eyes?

~ ~ ~

US hardback cover
On the other hand, Marcus Sedgwick's Midwinterblood, the 2014 winner of the Michael Printz award, didn't surprise at all.  He's a very smart and talented writer, always leaning to the creepy, supernatural and suspenseful.  Midwinterblood is a haunting, intricately plotted tale of love, longing and sacrifice, told in reverse order through linked and overlapping stories, all taking place on the mysterious Blessed Island, somewhere North Sea and Viking-ish, and intensely remote.  Rumors are that islanders seem to live forever, and in the year 2073, journalist Eric Seven arrives to investigate.  From there, the stories slip back through the centuries, telling their own tales yet making sense of the stories coming before and after, until at last we circle back to the final incarnation of an ages-old bond.

US paperback cover
I find myself thinking about the stories, the characters, how it all fits together, the crafting, and so I know this is no shabby piece of work. But it is one of those times when I wonder about the award it's won, 'cause I can tell you right now this book will sit on our shelf.  It's marketed as a YA novel, and I think that's the wrong market, at least in the US.  However, I challenge you to read it for yourself, and let me know.  I'd be happy to be wrong!

ps -- There seem to be a plethora of covers for this book, and in my opinon the hardback US cover (the one I read) is the least appealing of all. Maybe I would have come to the book in a different mindset with a different cover.  What do you think??

UK paperback cover

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