June 21, 2009

Escape and Escapism: Two Fast-Paced Summer Reads

I've always liked novels in which a plucky and brave protagonist summons the inner courage to escape from an intolerable situation, come hell or high water, obstacles be damned. The suspense, the detailed descriptions of the how-tos of the escape, the reward of freedom—however these materialize in each particular book, I'm usually intrigued by the very premise. One of my all-time favorites is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, but a modern story of escape for older readers that was really gripping was Ellen Emerson White's Long Live the Queen.

Two recent reads that fall into this category are Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem and The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. These two very different tales of escape both feature strong young women as protagonists, characters who realize that their hopes of survival and a better future lie in their own hands.

In Escape Under the Forever Sky, thirteen-year-old Lucy Hoffman is daughter to the U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia, and is usually kept under strict supervision, much to her dismay—until a careless day's "escape" with her best friend leaves her open to kidnapping. Lucy, a huge wildlife buff, is faced with the possibility that not only might she never see her family again, she might never grow up to be the naturalist she hopes to be someday. But her skills and knowledge come in handy in unexpected ways when she takes her survival into her own hands and attempts the seemingly impossible: escape into the Ethiopian wilderness. Though the flashing back and forth in time took away from the adventure aspect for me—I would have liked a bit more focus on the suspense and the details of the escape—it's a fast and enjoyable read with some real danger to the character.

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams is undeniably topical. Kyra, at nearly 14, by the rules of her Compound is old enough to get married. But she looks at the lives of her mothers (all three of them) and her father, and her innumerable brothers and sisters, and she isn't sure that's what she wants for herself. Thanks to her illicit visits to the library bookmobile, she knows there's a world outside the Compound, one where she won't have to marry according to the decree of Prophet Childs, and might have the hope of a relationship with Joshua, just a few years older than she is and equally unsure of the truth of the Compound's ways. But when the Prophet declares that she is to marry her sixty-year-old Uncle Hyrum, who already has multiple wives whom he oppresses mentally and physically, Kyra realizes that she has to try to gain her freedom. But her efforts don't come without a cost. I couldn't put this one down—I was really rooting for Kyra; her allies are sympathetic and nuanced, and the villains are truly monstrous.


Charlotte said...

Wolves of W.C. is a favorite of mine too!

I will go an add Forever Sky to my list, and I agree wholeheartedly about The Chosen One.

adrienne said...

I read The Chosen One all in one sitting (on a sunny day, sitting on my front porch drinking iced tea--heaven!). It was absorbing and very hard to tell what the right course for Kyra was going to be. I liked, too, that while there were villains, the entire community wasn't presented that way. Kyra's father was surprisingly sympathetic, and you could see where Kyra wouldn't want to leave the world of her mothers and siblings.