October 23, 2005

Their Own Little Worlds

They're not for everyone, these two books, but for those who become enmeshed in the worlds they depict, they are can't-put-it-down, compulsive reads.

An agent I spoke with mentioned that there's hardly room in the already stuffed sci-fi/fantasy field for one story more, so I may be reading Jean Thesman's newest novel, The Singer with a bit of jaded eye! However, it
is a lush and evocative fantasy, filled with detailed descriptions of a barren childhood and an evil mother, in the traditional fairytale style. There is a dark castle, knights, trolls, and the works.

Loosed basely on an Irish folktale called The Children of Lir, this tale is of Gwenore, daughter of the power-mad Queen Rhiannon, who hates her magic-touched daughter and wishes her dead, and a son in her place. Gwenore escapes, and lives her life in hiding, and her near escapes and constant dread of discovery make for high drama for some young readers, but may become somewhat tiresome for others. In the end, Gwenore's mousey ways are challenged when her mother threatens other innocents. Gwenore must rise into her strength to save herself and those dear to her.

While this is a complex and descriptive amplification of the traditional tale, it brings little new to the familiar story -- except the rarely glimpsed strong female fantasy character. Religious sisters carry the bulk of the power in these tales, not by their weight at court or in the ranks of men, but as healers and listeners, saviors of downtrodden women and those who endure and rise again. For this subtle and excellent characterization, I would recommend this as a great read for young girls.

"The longer I'm alive, the more I'm interested in how people learn from their mistakes, not in the fact that they make them."

These are the words of Madeline Gladstone, Quality Manager of Gladstone shoes, and a fabulous character in a book that encapsulates a world all its own. Joan Bauer's Best Foot Forward, a sequel to the unique Rules of the Road, focuses on the narrowly explored world of ...Shoe salesmanship. It's just not your average YA topic.

Jenna Boller is tall, an ace shoe saleswoman, and the daughter of an alcoholic. She's got big goals and a serious work ethic, and knows a few things. One, in corporate America, there's no time to mess around, and two, if you're not there to do a good job, to put your best foot forward, you're not going to be to in business for long.

Jenna turned a summer job at Gladstone Shoes into a job as the assistant to the Quality Manager by sheer hustle and hard work. Therefore, she's shocked when Madeleine Gladstone assigns her to mentor a shoplifter -- and gives him a job! Jenna's struggles to accept and work with attitudinal Tanner Cobb are further complicated by changes coming down from the corporate office. Quality is slipping, the customors are complaining, and something strange is going on at Gladstone, something even worse than their recent corporate merger.

As she's learned in Al-Anon, there's a time to forgive, and there's a time to let go -- and a time to put your best foot forward and keep moving on. Jenna is a great believer that life is either black or white. Forgiveness and acceptance are tough, and for the child of an alcoholic, learning to relax isn't second nature. Part of putting your best foot forward is learning to allow others to make their own choices and mistakes, and to do the best you can for yourself.

This is a great story, and though selling shoes and dealing with older people isn't going to make a great read for every teen, the memorable and resilient Jenna makes you want to cheer for her successes. This is a story, and a sequel, with heart.

No comments: