Welcome, everyone, to the start of a brand new Smugglerific feature! Today we bring you the first in an ongoing weekly special: Old School Wednesdays! We came up with the idea towards the end of last year, when both of us were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of new and shiny (and often over-hyped) books. And what better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
Inspired by our defunct From the Dungeons feature (owing a dash of inspiration from Angieville’s Retro Fridays), we decided to create a new feature for 2013. On Old School Wednesdays, we take a break from the new and pay homage to the old by reviewing books that are at least 5 years old.
To kick things off, Ana reviews historical YA novel Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages (2006), and Thea tackles the third and concluding novel in the Darkangel trilogy, The Pearl of the Soul of the World by Meredith Ann Pierce (1990).
Ana’s Old School Pick:
Author: Ellen Klages
Genre: Historical YA
Publisher: Viking Junvenile
Publication date: October 2006
Paperback: 326 pages
It’s 1943, and eleven-year-old Dewey Kerrigan is en route to New Mexico to live with her mathematician father. Soon she arrives at a town that, officially, doesn’t exist. It is called Los Alamos, and it is abuzz with activity, as scientists and mathematicians from all over America and Europe work on the biggest secret of all–”the gadget.” None of them–not J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project; not the mathematicians and scientists; and least of all, Dewey–know how much “the gadget” is about to change their lives.
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): eBook (Kobo)
Standalone or series: First in a duology
In 1943, 11-year-old Dewey is on her way to spend some time with her mathematician father after her grandmother suffers a stroke and can no longer take care of her. Her father has been absent since the beginning of the War and now lives at Los Alamos, working on a secret project which is only referred to as “the gadget” throughout the book. The Gadget is of course, the atomic bomb and Los Alamos is the secret location of the Manhattan Project.
There, Dewey is left mostly to her own devices – quite literally too, since Dewey has a love for all things mechanical and loves inventing new things. But life is not particularly easy because most of the other kids (especially the girls) want nothing to do with Dewey. At the same time, her classmate Suze is equally shunned for her (large-ish) size – and the two girls end up becoming friends.
I recently read and had my mind blown away by a short story written by Ellen Klages in the Under My Hat anthology which promptly made me want to read another story from her. I did a bit of research and came across The Green Glass Sea, an award-winning historical novel featuring Girls! Science! The Atomic Bomb! and how could I NOT want to read this? Really.
There is a lot to admire here and a lot that is downright cool about it. I mean, Dewey is friends with Richard freaking Feynman and calls J. Robert Oppenheimer, Oppie. And it’s like, HERE girls, you can have the Physics Dream Team playing just outside your door.
Similarly, it is great to see the two girls finding out their interests in life are ok, even if they are girls – one is an artist, the other an inventor, both extremely creative. The book also shows how incredibly important role models are to children and in that sense, the relationship between Suze’s mother – a chemist working on the project – and Dewey is great because of their shared interest in scientific pursuits. Another thing that the book does really well is to show that historical moment when most people believed that the bomb was absolutely necessary to finish the war with Japan (Historians think it wasn’t) as well as the scientists’ working on the project increasing hesitation about using the bomb.
That said, I had two major problems with the novel. Problem numero uno: really, how freaking tragic can you get? Dewey has had a terrible time – first of all, her mother was a drunk who dropped her downstairs when she was a baby resulting on one slightly shorter, weaker leg. Her father is away all the time, her grandmother has a stroke and THEN as soon as life is starting to look up, her father dies in a car crash leaving Dewey orphaned and the latter chapters of the book are tense with a grieving Dewey believing she was all alone in the world. Ok fine, yes: tragedy happens and it’s cool that this book doesn’t shy away from it. But this to me just feels like a very old-fashioned MG in which main characters must suffer unspeakable contrived tragedies in order to grow and Learn About Life. Or something. Not to mention that the characters are stuck in this personal tragedy and this effectively overshadows the tragedy of the atomic bombings. In fairness though, the focus here is the personal and from the perspective of children.
Problem numero dos: As much as I loved her, it is clear that Dewey( and to some extent Suze too ) is an excepto- girl (TM Jodie): she is an exceptional girl who excel at something (science) that is not traditionally feminine (especially at the time) and who is elevated above all the other girls in the novel who all end up being villains described as girly-girls.
Something that made me really uneasy about the novel is how any signs of traditional femininity are portrayed negatively. All three “heroines” of the novel and the ones we are supposed to relate to and root for because they are better – Dewey, Suze and Suze’s mother – and are described as either ugly or big and there is one particular point made about how Suze’s mother doesn’t wear make-up or jewellery. Dewey and Suze even make a point of saying that no girls are allowed in their club. The problem isn’t as much with the perception the girls have of themselves or even with the fact they are not what is perceived as traditionally feminine but with the fact that girls are every other female character in the novel – often beautiful, with their “girl-voices”, interested in boys and who do not share the same (portrayed as better) interests as our main characters – and who are all villains and bullies. I love reading stories about girls who doesn’t conform to a certain idea of femininity but not to the expense of all others.
Unfortunately then, I was a bit disappointed with The Green Glass Sea.
Dewey took a final bite of her apple and, without taking her eyes off her book, put the core into the brown paper sack on the ground next to her. She was reading a biography, the life of Faraday, and she was just coming to the exciting part where he figured out about electricity and magnetism. She leaned contentedly against Papa’s shoulder and turned the page.
Today they had chosen to sit against the west wall of the commissary for their picnic lunch. It offered a little bit of shade, they could look out at the Pond, and it was three minutes from Papa’s office, which meant they could spend almost the whole hour reading together.
“Dews?” Papa said a few minutes later. “Remember the other night when we were talking about how much math and music are related?”
“Well, there was a quote I couldn’t quite recall, and I just found it. Listen.” He began to read, very slowly. ” `Music is the hidden arithmetic of the soul, which does not know that it deals with numbers. Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.’ That’s exactly what I was talking about.”
“Who said it?” Dewey asked.
“Leibniz. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. He was an interesting guy, a mathematician and a philosopher and a musician to boot. You’d like him.”
Rating: 6 – Good, recommended with reservations
Thea’s Old School Pick:
Author: Meredith Ann Pierce
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publication date: 1990
Paperback: 322 pages
All the world’s wisdom and magic resides within the iridescent depths of a small white pearl. “All my sorcery,” the Ancient Ravenna had said of the pearl. “It is left to you to save the world.” But is the pearl powerful enough to enable Aeriel to defeat the White Witch? Aeriel’s people have assembled an army–led by the redeemed darkangel Irrylath–and are soon to attack the Witch and her darkangel sons. But their cause is hopeless unless Aeriel can unlock the mysteries of the pearl . . . and of her own destiny.
How did I get this book: Bought (well, actually, it was a gift from fellow blogger Megan no h of Forever Young Adult! THANK YOU, MEGAN!)
Format (e- or p-): Print
Standalone or series: Book 3 in The Darkangel Trilogy
**WARNING: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for The Darkangel and A Gathering of Gargoyles, books 1 & 2 in the series. If you have not read these books and would like to remain unspoiled, LOOK AWAY! You have been warned.**
Aeriel has cut out her heart and given it to her husband and beloved Irrylath, saving him from a horrible fate as a true Darkangel. She has travelled the vast sand-filled seas to solve an ancient rime in the hopes of saving her husband and her world from the snare of the White Witch. Now, she has helped Irrylath amass an army to bring the Witch down, but faces her greatest challenge yet when she is run through with the Witch’s cruel pin and her memories are robbed. Aeriel must travel to the great city of NuRavenna, and bear a precious pearl to stop the Witch and save her world from the slow death of entropy.
The third and final book in Meredith Ann Pierce’s Darkangel trilogy, The Pearl of the Soul of the World is powerful, climactic stuff. This is Aeriel’s final showdown, and she is tested more sorely than she has ever been before – still, she harbors an unrequited love for her husband (in name only), Irrylath, and still she hopes to win his heart once she has freed him from the talons of the Witch. But, truly, The Pearl of the Soul of the World is so much larger than just Aeriel’s yearning for Irrylath – it is the story of a world created and forgotten, of a daughter bent on revenge and power against her mother, and a prophecy that can guide a planet back from the brink of cold death. When I started The Pearl of the Soul of the World, it was with great trepidation. I’ve heard from many different people that this was their least favorite of the books, and have read reviews that were similarly underwhelmed. But you know what, fellow readers? I think this was a perfect, fitting end to a beautiful, wonderfully strange series. In fact, The Pearl of the Soul of the World is my favorite of the trilogy.
As with A Gathering of Gargoyles before it, this volume expands on the history of Aeriel’s world (which is our own moon), this time explaining in depth the ancients that came from Oceanus (Earth), who brought life to a barren rock and crafted creatures to inhabit it and do their bidding. I love the beautiful integration of science fiction with fantasy in this book and series overall -this intersection of my two favorite genres is always welcome, but so rarely does it come off as effortlessly and effectively as it does with Pierce’s writing. In this third book, we also learn the truth of Ravenna and Oriencor the Witch, their bond and the madness that drives the Witch to her cruel acts – I won’t spoil, but it’s a resonant and heartbreaking truth that is revealed, and gives us more insight and understanding of Oriencor as more than just a single-minded monster. We see familiar faces including Irrylath and Erin, my favorites of the cast – Irrylath because he is not magically in love with Aeriel and such a conflicted, dark character; Erin because of her devotion to a true friend, as protective of Aeriel as Aeriel is of her husband (in truth, I consider the love between Erin and Aeriel the true love story of this trilogy – but maybe that’s just me).
But most of all? Most of all I loved watching Aeriel on her quest – first as the unwanted slave who defies and redeems a Darkangel, then as a messenger across the sands and seas, and finally, the woman on whose shoulders the weight of the world rests. It is Aeriel’s strength, her choices, and her love that defines and saves her world – small, unassuming Aeriel, who is neither powerful nor some preordained-by-the-stars savior. I truly admired the gutsy, heartbreaking strain Pierce places on her heroine and the ultimate choice she must make at the end of this book. And while it might not be popular opinion, I think the ending is just as it should be: sad, yes, but ultimately hopeful and ever so powerful.
What else can I say except that I loved this book dearly, and I feel bereft now that I have finished the trilogy?
If you love fantasy, if you love science fiction, if you love stories and beautiful writing and heartbreaking characters, The Darkangel awaits. Please read it.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
She had no idea where she was – only that she was in a cave, the walls pressing close about her, all of white stone. Light came from somewhere, dim and diffuse, and the air was old: musty and bone-dry. She was thirsty, so thirsty. All her limbs felt stiff, and behind her right ear crouched a pain she knew she mustn’t touch. Her hair felt sticky, matted there. She gazed at the featureless walls of the cave. SHe had been lost for a long time.
Rating: 9 – Absolutely Brilliant and I wouldn’t change a thing