- Know all the Questions, but not the Answers -
Look for the Different instead of the Same -
Never Walk when there's room for Running -
- Don't do anything that can't be a Game."
The Never Grown-Up Spell, from The Changeling
I have a lot of respect for Open Road Media. Once upon a time, one of its co-founders was the CEO of HarperCollins, so it's not as if the company is unfamiliar with "traditional" publishing. But, they understand that part of the road in ahead in publishing will be through the medium of digital media. And, it is through Open Road that many authors are getting in the gate, taking a chance on first publications, or publishing their backlists and getting them back into the hands of new readers. Zilpha Keatley Snyder is responsible for THE HEADLESS CUPID, THE VELVET ROOM, and THE EGYPT GAME and hordes of other interesting and unique series, and I'm excited to review her book, which was first published in 1970.
It's often a strange experience to read YA lit written before I was born. I compare characters, plotline, and story arcs. I realize that a lot of what was published back then would be difficult to get published for the first time now. I'm not sure how I feel about that... or what it says about the childhood reading choices of kids who are kids now, and not in the eighties and nineties when I was much younger.
I have a feeling there's entirely too much to say on that topic! However - I simply will celebrate the eclectic, varied, and unusual stories I grew up with, be glad that LIBRARIES are at the forefront of holding on to author backlists, and that this digital age is digging up some gems to put into the hands of a new generation and a new style of readership. Here's to ferreting out a few more awesome overlooked books to share.
Reader Gut Reaction: I had two gut reactions, one, this book is told almost entirely in flashback. Nowadays? There's no way that an editor would be happy about three quarters of a YA book being told in flashback. Two, this book would be perfectly appropriate for young middle grade readers. Despite the fact that the beginning of the novel is when one of the main characters is a high school sophomore, the amount of time the flashback spends in grade school means that a lot would resonate.
Concerning Character: Martha is shy, plump, and babyish. She is the well loved and completely misunderstood youngest child of the well-meaning Abbott family. Not a take-charge extrovert like the rest, bookish Martha lacks confidence in herself, and spends much of life in floods of tears.
Ivy is underfed, large-eyed, and raggedly clothed; one of those piss-poor Carson kids, whose low class family usually has one or another members in Juvie or in jail. How she and Ivy become friends is through the magic of elementary school - and a shared love of their imaginary friends. How they remain friends through years of time, very different families, and a frowning community is something of a miracle.
Together, the two make an unbeatable team. They find magic in their make-believe, and that magic fuels their world.
But, sometimes, the worlds of our imagination bump up against The Real World, with painful results.
Is it survivable? Yes. But, is it easy? Never.
Recommended for Fans Of...: S.E. Hinton's THE OUTSIDERS, in its commentary on the individual and society, THE UNSEEN, by Zilpah Keatley Snyder, for its out-of-place-in-my-family main character, Jerry Spinelli's STARGIRL, for the quirky and unusual Ivy, THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY, by Susan Patron, and just about anything by Madeleine L'Engle, Cynthia Voight's early books, and Judy Blume's middle grade gems.
Themes & Things: Many of ZK Snyder's books are about families - ordinary folk who have jobs, who endure school, and who navigate the usual bits of growing up through sports, games, and the long unfettered days of summer. Snyder focuses on the sometimes quirky individuals who make up those groups. Characters are either not in step with their communities, as in Martha and Ivy's case, or apt to engage in hugely imaginative games which others might not get into, like in THE EGYPT GAME, or THE WITCHES OF WORM. The novels usually also feature characters on the cusp of adulthood, and feeling the usual twinges and pains of growing - twinges which sometimes cause them to do things which are questionable or cruel - witness both witness minor character Kelly's angry obsession with Ivy, or Jessica in THE WITCHES OF WORM blaming her unkind behavior on her cat. Snyders books seem to feature a lot of inner mind and times when the character holes up and tries to figure out the world - which is how a lot of my adolescence was spent, anyway. Despite the fact that this book is pretty dated in years, the timestamp of the seventies is trimmed neatly from the text. I still think it skews younger than YA, just based on the sort of flashbacks from ages 7 - 16, it's a book that would work well as a read-aloud for younger middle graders, and a "on my own" type of read for older middle graders, and more sensitive YA readers.
Cover Chatter: Well, this was barely the seventies. You know there will be COVERS...
First, I have to say it: the watercolored cover was probably a mistake. The style seems meant to be amateurish, and while it does hark back to the book, where the girls were one day painted by a woman whose name was Mrs. Smith, it is neither exactly the painting that Mrs. Smith did, nor an accurate representation of the girls - something I'm a stickler for. It was a lovely image that probably... shouldn't have been attempted.
The more generic aquamarine cover is nice enough, and once you discern the face in the leaves, it makes more sense that it is a depiction of Ivy. The color says 1980's pretty loudly. ☺
The dark cover with the title in blue, and Ivy dancing before the tree in her yellow dress once ties back to the story, but sometimes the depiction of someone who is supposed to be different or look counterculture can be too specific, and feed the imagination where it would better be to allow a picture to develop all its own. Ivy never looked nutty with her dancing to my mind - just free. Here, she looks like she's been caught up in a tornado that might leave her in Oz.
I love the Dell cover. Just. Love. It. It's solely for the purposes of familiarity, but these were the covers of my childhood, with those photo-realistic drawings that always went along with some happening in the book. I also really like the most modern cover, which is the first one depicted. The girls in the woods - themselves in silhouette, but their clasped hands, telling the story of a friendship that through distance and misunderstandings, survived.
You can find THE CHANGELING by Zilpha Keatley Snyder at your local library, or at an independent e-retailer, and possibly even in some pretty special brick-and-mortar indie bookstores near you!