Saturday, April 28, 2012

Review: Kill Me Softly

Kill Me SoftlyKill Me Softly by Sarah Cross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A long time ago, in the year 2000, I graduated with a Master of Arts in English.  Despite the fact that there was no formal path for this at my university, I focused my studies on fairy tales--specifically, the literary fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen, and others.  My interest in fairy tales coincided with a boom in scholarship about them.  Jack Zipes, Maria Tatar, Ruth Bottigheimer, Donald Haase, and more were establishing that fairy tales were an appropriate area to study and that the tales were far more complicated than we remembered.  They also examined the ways in which fairy tales have been reused, revised, and repurposed by modern artists.  Zipes, in particular, studied the cultural work of Disney and didn't like what he saw.

After having devoted about three years of my life to studying fairy tales, I decided to purpose a more standard path of study and did my doctoral work on nineteenth-century British literature.  However, since I can't stand to be too mainstream, I at least focused on the Gothic as a subgenre. 

In the years since then, I've kept my eyes out for fairy tale retellings.  I'm still fascinated by the short tales and the hold they exercise over our cultural imagination.  I was delighted to find Sarah Cross's Kill Me Softly, and even more excited when I received an advance reader's copy of the book from Netgalley.

After reading this book, I set down my nook and simply said "yes."  Finally, here, an author has explored fairy tales in a way that gets to the darkness at their root while still creating a new and interesting mythology of her own.  Finally.  Yes.

The book opens with a startlingly apt quotation from Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire.  "I don't want realism.  I want magic!" Blanche DuBois states, and that sentiment shapes this novel.

Mira has lived her entire life in the care of her godmothers.  They're lovely, kind, and caring women, and they took in Mira as an infant after her parents died in a fire at her christening.  Now that she's nearly sixteen, Mira is horrified to betray them, but she also feels that needs to do something that's been nagging at her for years.  She needs to return to the town of her birth, Beau Rivage, and visit her parents' graves.  Since this means running away from home, Mira is willing to do that.  She's planned her escape well by creating a false trail leading to a make-believe online boyfriend.  But she's never managed to plan what to do once she arrives in Beau Rivage, and that realization hits her shortly after her arrival in the city.

Mira finds herself alone in a casino cafe called Wish, and it's here that her plan starts going awry.  She meets another teen, a young man with blue hair, who calls himself Blue.  He tries to get her to leave the casino (which is called Dream), claiming to be the son of the owner.  Blue wants her to leave before she can meet his brother . . . and he fails.  Mira does meet his brother, Felix, and falls for him.  Hard.  Felix comps her a room at Dream, and he vows to help her find the graves.

Dismayed to find that she hasn't left, and horrified that she's met Felix, Blue attaches himself to Mira as well.  The two brothers don't share their time with her; instead, she seems to drift between them a bit like a pinball.  Quickly, Mira becomes aware that Blue's friends are odd.  They share inside jokes that disturb Mira, and none of them are really happy.  Viv has a wicked stepmother (sorry, normal stepmother, Freddie explains) and an obsessive gardener with a crush on her.  The apple logo on her laptop is covered by tape.  Small animals and birds cluster around Freddie, who is helpless to push them away.  Still, Mira isn't freaked out too much until Viv's mirror tells the girl that she's gorgeous, which is something she clearly doesn't want to hear.  They talk of curses, and stop when they realize Mira is listening.

As the cover copy makes clear, fairy tales are real in Beau Rivage.  Mira is shocked to learn that, just like Blue and his friends, she too has a role to play.  And fairy tales are not pleasant stories at all.

Cross is an elegant writer, and she deftly explores the menace and beauty that attracts readers to these tales.  However, she's not content to let them rest with the "happy ever after" versions that we've come to know in the last 100 years of children's stories.  Instead, she looks back to the tales when Cinderella's sisters cut off parts of their feet in order to fit into the slipper (and the prince didn't notice until birds told him that blood was spurting out of the shoe!).  She's clearly read the darkly wonderful collection of tales by Angela Carter called The Bloody Chamber.  The first line of one of the stories in that book, "The Tyger's Bride," is wonderfully evocative of the entire book's tone: "My father lost me to the beast at cards."

Thrust by her own stubbornness and desire into a world that both confuses and attracts her, Mira must learn to navigate the rules in order to survive.  She must decide which brother to trust, which tales are true, and she must learn how to shape her own fate.  Otherwise, she may just become a character in someone else's story, and she won't like how that one ends at all.

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Review: Die for Me

Die for Me
Die for Me by Amy Plum

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wow. I have very little to say about this book. While I liked it in the beginning, as it wore on, the book seemed to lost both originality and charm. I did like the fact that Kate, the heroine, recognizes that Vincent's devotion to her and need of her may become a burden. But other than that, there's very little here. The novel presents no real insights into life, the human condition, sacrifice, or what it means to love. Instead, we have a story about an insecure young woman suffering from depression after the recent death of her parents discovering love for the first time with an impossibly gorgeous supernatural man. Yawn.

*start rant* Also, I have to add that I'm getting really sick of Absentee Parent Syndrome in young adult novels. It's normally just irritating. However, in this book, Kate's parents are dead, and it's a case of Depressed Orphan Syndrome. While Plum does a good job portraying Kate's depression at the loss of her parents, I have to say I'm getting sick of dead parents as a plot device. As an orphan myself, I find it rather sickening. *end rant*

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Monday, April 16, 2012

World Book Night

I picked up my books for World Book Night today. In one week, I get to walk around Detroit and give them away. I can't wait.