Sunday, September 06, 2009

Reading Update

I bought books #43 and 44 for my classroom and they are already proving popular. Gone and Hunger, by Michael Grant, are the first two books in what will end up being at least a trilogy. (Nobody writes single books any more - you're always committing yourself to at least three, it seems, when you buy YA books.) It's a fascinating premise - what happens when society is run by teenagers? For reasons that become - well - partially clear later, suddenly everyone over the age of 14 disappears. Now life has become the FAYZ, the quickly-adopted acronym of Fallout Alley Youth Zone. It's interesting to see which type of person emerges as the leadership of the new reality and how the newly-liberated young people use their freedom from parents and other adults. (At first the electricity stays on, and they mostly sit around and play computer games all day. I found this sadly convincing.) One young man, Albert, thinks through the economic situation and becomes an entrepreneur, starting with keeping the local McDonald's open. I found him one of the most intriguing characters. Reviews have compared this series to The Lord of the Flies and Stephen King. As long as we were in Golding territory I was playing along, but once the weirdness started - think mutations of people and animals, super-powers, and a mysterious power called the Darkness - I was less enthusiastic. I don't really enjoy the comic-book characters and the endless, non-stop, pounding action. But I have plenty of students who will.

I was ready for a couple of books written for grown-ups.

Book #45, Exposure, by Brandilyn Collins, was fun, if rather forgettable. The author grew up in Wilmore, Kentucky, and her mother had apparently always told her she should set a book there. This is her response to that request.

Book #46, on the other hand, was the opposite of forgettable. Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, is the story of Inman, a man coming home from the butchery of the Civil War to Ada, the woman he might love. Both have changed considerably during the years of the war. Inman has seen - and committed - terrible carnage, and Ada, an over-educated young woman, has had to become useful in ways she never anticipated, with the help of Ruby, who shows up to help, demanding that she never have to empty any night-soil jars but her own. To underscore the timeless theme of a man coming home from war, Ada and Ruby read the Odyssey together, but this isn't a book about archetypes but about particularity. Each character has stories to tell, stories of the past before the war, stories of what they have seen during the war, dreams for the future. But one of the most important characters is the landscape. These characters live fully in their surroundings and are aware of the plants and animals and mountains. Ruby is mostly uneducated but knows everything about farming and hunting and every type of tree and flower and herb. And the book is marvelously written - I kept wanting to reread passages or to read them aloud. There's enough action to satisfy the most bloodthirsty middle schooler but there's nothing cartoonish about any of it, and this book is definitely in the grown-up category. Cold Mountain is beautiful, uplifting, tragic, despairing, heartbreaking. Rick Bass is quoted on the back of the jacket as saying, "It seems even possible to never want to read another book, so wonderful is this one." I won't go that far, but I do highly recommend it.


Janet said...

A book out of Wilmore? Curiouser and curiouser.

I knew Cold Mountain was a movie (which I haven't seen), but didn't realize it was a book. It sounds wonderful!

The first one does have an interesting premise. It seems like much YA fiction has to get adults out of the picture somehow, doesn't it? -- not necessarily literally, but into the periphery of the action so that the burden is on the young person.

Ruth said...

I haven't seen the movie, either. I wonder if it's good?

Tricia said...

Do you think middle schoolers will read Cold Mountain? I always assumed it was adult fiction, but then again, I read YA fiction and my almost-12yo son reads stuff like the LOTR trilogy so who am I to compartmentalize books?

Ruth said...

Oh no, I realize now that's how I made it sound, but no, this is definitely not for middle schoolers. It's not appropriate for them and they'd hate it!

Ruth said...

OK, Tricia, I edited it to remove the suggestion that I'm recommending Cold Mountain for middle school!