Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Devil's Paintbox

A few years back, I really enjoyed Victoria McKernan's first novel for young adults, Shackleton's Stowaway. Now, she has written another gripping historical novel.

The Devil's Paintbox tells the story of Aidan and Maddy, two orphans who are on the verge of starvation out on the Kansas prairie when a wagon train comes by and "rescues" them, in return for a year of work at a logging camp near Seattle. Off on the adventure of the Oregon Trail, Aidan and Maddy actually have an easier life than they have ever known before. But, of course, the westward journey is fraught with danger, hardship, and difficult relationships, and events catch up with the kids. While attempting to ford a river, Aidan's life is saved by some young Native American men. He has to confront his prejudices and in the last third of the novel, the title earns its place. The "devil's paintbox" is another name for smallpox and it is illegal for Indians to get vaccinated. Aidan's new friends beg him to help get them the vaccine. The policies and prejudice of our past are once again shocking as this true practice is explored and Aidan weighs his sense of justice and his desire keep to himself. Aidan's life in the logging camp is vividly described and he becomes a prizefighter in the camps. There is no shortage of adventure in this tale.
Well-written and well-researched, this is the historical novel for any reader to dig into before spring lures us outside.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Mormon YA Fantasy Novelists

At the library, the growing group of really fantastic Mormon YA authors is something that we talk about quite often. We've often speculated, without a Mormon colleague to ask, if there are elements to the religion that lend themselves especially well to the creation of fantasy. Look at the popularity of Orson Scott Card in the past and now Stephanie Meyer, Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, and even Obert Skye. All of them are creating fantasy worlds that strike a chord with young readers and critics alike. (I would list Shannon Hale as one of my favorites, and her blog, squeetus, is a delight!) A recent article Boston Globe perfectly addressed this phenomenon and talked with some of the authors.

I read Jessica Day George's Princess of the Midnight Ball (a retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses") last week and really enjoyed it. Like her Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow (a retelling of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon"), it beautifully retells a less popular and very romantic fairy tale. The author uses exquisite details to fully realize the world in which the fairy tale is set to make it work. In this tale, twelve individual princesses are a lot to take on, but George handles the challenge by naming each sister after flowers in their mother's garden. I loved the description of the enchantment that makes the princesses dance and how George is not easy on the queen mother for her selfish wishes that cursed her daughters.

Lately, I've been having a rough time staying with anything I pick up, but Princess of the Midnight Ball had me in nearly one sitting.