April 02, 2013

Turning Pages: A CORNER OF WHITE by Jaclyn Moriarty

Okay, so, here's the thing.

This isn't the sort of book that you can review. You can only... respond.

Reader Gut Reaction: First of all, if this is your first Jaclyn Moriarty book, I might suggest you start with a different one. NOT because there's anything wrong with this one. But, because you'll get a feel for the author through her 2000 FEELING SORRY FOR CELIA or THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS (2003), and a different feel for THE BETRAYAL (or, MURDER, if you read the U.S. version) OF BINDY MCKENZIE (2006). You'll get a feel for the Ashbury-Brookfield students she writes about. Then, you'll be able to carry on in this book when you discover a new set of communities.

One of these communities is brand new - and a bit confusing. But, not much.

This book was touted as "genre-bending." It must be a handy phrase the Australian book agents decided upon to Help Out Dim Americans. This book isn't so much genre-bending as literary. Readers are going to have to work a bit to understand what's going on. It's not actually hard, it just requires attention paid. The author is being allowed to write an unusual novel, which, in the American markets, is the kiss of death, unusual is -- it's nothing you can compare to another book! *gasp, clutches pearls*

Well, if that means it's genre-bending, then gee, may we all bend genres someday.

This isn't to say that the novel is perfect - I feel like the main character is just a tiny bit too ephemeral and quirky for me to love her as I should. The things that shaped her life should have left more of their stamp on her, and she's a little too hard to see sometimes emotionally. I also find I want to know more about Elliot and his love'em-and-leave'em ways. However, this is Book 1 of a SERIES, and I can wait. Not happily, but I can.

Concerning Character: Madeleine Tully lives in Cambridge, England, the World, where she, and two other students are homeschooled by a set of eclectic people which includes her mother, who is quite sure that watching quiz shows is the real way to win again -- she's already won once, a sewing machine, on which she makes the living that keeps food on the table and she and Madeleine under a (slightly molding, attic) roof. Once, together with Madeleine's father, they were fabulously wealthy and well-traveled -- once. Now, Madeleine knows the answers to a lot of trivia -- and a disturbing amount about the life of Isaac Newton, and his theory on color. Once, Madeleine wouldn't have cared about such things. But, here they are in Cambridge, part of a tiny community which sometimes Madeleine thinks of as temporary - her infatuation with Jack, her tentative friendship with Bella - all temporary. She's just a placeholder. This isn't her real life. But, like an elephant in the room lurks the question: is that "real" life for real? What's the actual history of Madeleine and her mother -- and her father? Are all of Madeleine's stories true? Or is she living a fantasy that requires a belief in quiz show answers, a belief in an eventual win, a belief in laughing things off, wearing bright Oxfam (Goodwill) outfits, and moving on from uncomfortable truths?

When Madeleine finds a note stuck in a parking meter - a corner of white, saying "Help! I'm being held against my will!" - she has to laugh. In a way, she's being held against her will, in her whole life...

Elliot Baranski makes his home in Bonfire, the Farms, in the Kingdom of Cello, and he is eager -- desperate -- to get on the road again. His uncle was found dead, and his father, as well as his biology teacher disappeared -- in the same day. The Colours had obviously attacked his uncle - probably a high level Purple - but as to the disappearances? No one knows. Elliot is well-loved, a popular, brilliant, gifted son of Bonfire, and his friends and community hate to see him leave for the danger of the Magical North. His plan this time is to find a seeking spell, and rescue his father from the Purple's lair, but in the meantime, he's dodging Red attacks, seasonal fluctuations - four seasons can come and go within a week - and has found what he thought was a myth - the Butterfly Child, who is supposed to bring good luck, good fortune, and an end to drought. Of course, his life being what it is, none of that is happening.

The last time Elliot left town, he back bruised and gaunt and unable to settle. He's breaking hearts all over -- but he can't stop. Because, like an elephant in the room is the question of his father's relationship with the biology teacher, his past history as sort of a fast and faithless character, and Elliot's own mother's belief that maybe he left of his own will, and hasn't been held captive by a Purple... that maybe it's time to let him go, like everyone else.

When Elliot finds a joking note stuck in a sculpture made of a broken television set - a corner of white - he realizes someone else if feeling trapped, and that someone else is contacting him from The World. It's illegal to not report a crack in the worlds, punishable by death, even, but the fact that somewhere else exists gives Elliot both frustration, and faith -- both a little corner of what he needs...

Recommended for Fans Of...: Um, remember that bit about not finding comparable books? Yeah. Maybe it's for fans of other Jaclyn Moriarty books? This book is capital O-Original.

Themes & Things: I don't always indulge my English major passion and talk about thematic shadings in a novel, and I think readers will easily enough see the overlap between Elliot and Madeleine's situations without having it explained. Since the title of the series is The Colours of Madeleine, we can expect Newton's theory on color to get a bit more play.

I find that I like it when an author takes a particular interest that they have, and share it with their readers. I pretty much had zero knowledge about color theory, other than that it ... um, existed? Being reminded that someone patiently held up glass and prisms in the light, and tried to figure out how what we see worked out to be the way we see it - and started in the 1600's - is kind of huge. Newton wasn't entirely correct in his assumptions, and neither are Elliot and Madeleine, but they're putting a lot of theories to the test. Eventually, some of their beliefs will be borne out - and their worlds will change, like Newton's did.

Cover Chatter: Here's a rare win - the American vs. the Australian/UK cover. I have to say that I love the American cover, even though there's a girl on it. With color block becoming a Thing in fashion circles (outside of which my own clothing choices ...triangulate?) it's very now, but more than that, the sheer whimsy of the upside down umbrella, the super-saturated white note in her hand, and the Technicolor leaves in the strangely random wind let the reader know that there is Something Going On in this novel. The AU/UK version of the novel has a very tame rainbow on it, which tells me almost nothing about the novel except that ... well, no. It tells me nothing, since there are no unicorns nor animals in pairs. With such a strange, magical, offbeat, quirky novel, a rainbow just doesn't do enough of the work to tell us about it.

FTC: This book received courtesy of the publisher, no money exchanged hands. Readers, YA BOOK CENTRAL is having a book giveaway. Go. See.. After April 1, you can find A CORNER OF WHITE by Jaclyn Moriarty at an independent bookstore near you!


LinWash said...

I read and loved the three books you mentioned by Jaclyn so I'm interested in this one. I won't pretend I know anything about Newton's color theory, but I'd be interested in seeing how Jaclyn works it in the narrative.

tanita✿davis said...

You need know nothing about color theory - but there's bits of Newton's writing in this novel, and I was so intrigued by that.

Some people are really polarized by this author, but I'm excited by her; I think it's awesome that she's able to take chances and make leaps - and her publishers let her.

Sarah Stevenson said...

I MUST read all of her books, so I'll look for this one. I remember The Spell Book of Listen Taylor got a mixed reception because it was just odd and hard to categorize. I don't find that to be a problem, myself. :)

I recently read a book with some alternate-universe type stuff in it--Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris, which I haven't reviewed yet but was pretty good. I'm sure Moriarty will give that idea her own spin! I'm already intrigued by the color stuff.