October 05, 2005

From Space Down to Earth

I have to admit that although I haven't posted lately, I've been doing an awful lot of reading. Some of it was re-reading. There is a very absorbing sci-fi trilogy by Joan D. Vinge, the Cat trilogy--Psion, Catspaw, and Dreamfall. I read these several years ago, probably in my late teens or early twenties, and had forgotten what a detailed, fast-paced, and exciting set of adventures these are. A young, half-alien street punk named Cat has been suppressing his inborn telepathic abilities since suffering trauma at a young age; but when he is discovered by a researcher into psychic powers, his life really gets going. This trilogy is so much about the ultimate moral victory--albeit not without cost--of the downtrodden underdog. Cat is someone whose heart hurts, but is in the right place, and so the reader is there rooting for him all the way, even when it seems like nothing can possibly go right. I felt that the third book lost momentum a bit compared to the other two, but nonetheless, I was extremely depressed when I came to the end of it and realized there were no more (although I did find out that it's been published in French...).

So I went in a different direction and tried some realistic middle grade fiction. The House on the Gulf, by Margaret Peterson Haddix of Shadow Children fame, is a pretty darn good one-off about a twelve-year-old girl named Britt who begins to suspect her older brother of some shady doings after they move with their mother to a Florida beach town. Although the premise, to me, was a little predictable, I still enjoyed reading it, and Haddix is always a master of quick-reading suspense.

I also decided to try out Sons of Liberty by Adele Griffin, whose YA novel The Other Shepards I completely adored. This middle grade piece was very different, but frankly, the three books I've read by her have been quite different from one another with the exception of their pensive tone. Her narrators always seem, to one degree or another, to live in their thoughts, and show us the world through their eyes, to the point of being unreliable narrators at times. This is a tricky fence to walk when writing for younger readers, I think--you don't want the narrator to be difficult to relate to or unsympathetic, and you don't want readers to be confused by what the narrator says and what he or she does or sees--rather, you want them to notice an incongruity and let that build tension in the reader's mind.

Anyway, the narrator of Sons of Liberty isn't altogether sympathetic--but the reader can easily understand that his hardness, his head-in-the-sand, stubborn, unwillingness to change his worldview, is something that arose from his family life. Rochester--aka Rock--has to learn to change his focus from himself and his father, whom he both feared and idolized, to the happiness and safety of his friends and the rest of his family. It's a story about relationships with others and with oneself, and about some of the moments of understanding and loss that inevitably accompany growing up. It's very, very good. I didn't expect to like it as much as I did. It also ended at the perfect moment, and I always admire writers who can manage that.

And speaking of ending...

2 comments:

a. fortis said...

Of course I had to have an afterthought, even after supposedly ending. I remembered reading, in the foreword to Psion, that Vinge had originally published it as a young adult novel (but somewhat edited). I'd be interested to get my hands on that version just for comparison...

tanita s. davis said...

Seriously! I can't imagine exactly what would've changed... I always felt it was sort of YA-esque either way... Now I shall go forth to the library this afternoon for a re-read!