November 30, 2006

A Huge Book -- Truly Huge -- In Every Sense

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

Readers who aren't appalled by the length of Aidan Chamber's 816 page epic, This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn will be entranced by the detail of a life fully lived. The pillow books begin when Cordelia is fifteen and end when she is twenty, and the novel encompasses the creative thoughts, poetry and dreams of one Cordelia Kenn. Chambers' novel is destined to be one of those smuggled into school with the pages dog-eared so that people can read the "good parts;" as Cordelia talks frankly about love and sex and all of the plotting and pondering she did on her one true love, Will Blacklin, and their heartening, heart-wrenching love affair.

While this book is an overlapping of several pillowbook stories (one is told every-other-page and may catch the reader off guard until they figure out what is going on), it is the coming of age, in every way, of Cordelia. Her mental, physical and spiritual growth is charted for all eternity in her poems and prose. Her history and mental state is recorded meticulously, her impressions and digressions and dreams. She is writing this book of her life for her unborn daughter, so that she will know all there is to know about love and life and growing up, so that it won't be so difficult. It is a huge task. It is ultimately a labor of love.

At times the novel is beautiful, at other times, it may be bewildering to the reader, shocking, ugly and painful. Cordelia writes rapturously of her menstruation, details her affair with an older man, and writes painfully of a boy who was obsessed with her to the point of danger. The words ache and breathe vividly on the page, and the writing is intimate and personal. The errata and extemporanea of a young woman's world is put down for all time, and may encourage readers to do their own extensive journaling. Though the length is extreme and the plot sometimes loses the reader with its many turns, this is an amazing effort. Beecause of the explicit nature of the work, there is a little warning on the cover that the novel is not meant for "younger readers." Some may beg the question that this as a young adult book at all, still, it answers a lot of the questions -- in detail -- that many teens want to know.

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