The public nomination period for the Cybils closed last week. I have 32 print books and 4 e-books checked out from the library currently scattered at various parts throughout my house (well, I guess the e-books aren’t really scattered), in addition to the books I already own (easily another dozen or so). You’d think that a kitchen table would be for eating things, but right now it’s pretty much just serving as a surface upon which to sort books – this stack I’ve read, this stack I haven’t, and so on.
Here are a few more brief reviews from the stack I’ve read.
This book lives up to its title. It is very strange, almost too strange, for most of its existence, and then it hits you with some sweetness near the end that makes for a very satisfying resolution. Sing da Navelli is the daughter of a famous soprano, a woman who made a name for herself in opera – not only because of her voice, but also because she died in the middle of an aria. When Sing starts at Dunhammond Academy, a boarding school for musicians, she feels the weight of her father’s expectations as well as the public’s. As luck (good or ill) would have it, the school is performing Angelique this year, the opera that Sing’s mother died singing.
Parts of the story are told from Sing’s point of view as she tries to gain the lead role in the opera, make friends, date the cute boy, deal with rude teachers, and so on. Other parts are told from the point of view of the Maestro of the school in his youth, his young apprentice, and a strange being called the Felix who inhabits the woods outside the school. The Felix – which kills almost everyone it meets, but grants wishes to a select few – is itself a part of the opera, used as inspiration by the opera’s composer long ago. Its life is tied inextricably to the history of the school. At times the school story and the mythical story exist uneasily side by side. It takes a patient reader to push through all the parts and learn how they join together, but the payoff is lovely and rewarding, very fairy tale-esque with a sweet romance and interesting magic. The writing is lovely, too, giving the book a dreamlike quality. This would be a good pick for readers fascinated with the opera, the lives of classical musicians, and the magic that music can create.
Amity by Micol Ostow
Ostow has written a seriously creepy horror novel that most readers could probably finish in a single sitting. It tells two parallel stories both set in a house called Amity, but separated in time by ten years. Connor’s story is the past story; Gwen’s is the present. Each story begins with the teens’ families moving into Amity and noticing that something is a bit off with the house. In Connor’s case, he develops an affinity for Amity; the house gives him a sort of power. He feeds off of it and vice versa. In Gwen’s case, the house frightens her; it starts to do strange things to her brother, and she becomes more and more disturbed as she learns more about what happened ten years ago with Connor’s family.
Each teen tells their own story, and both teens at first seem fairly normal, but it quickly becomes apparent that Connor brought his own disease with him to Amity, a disease that Amity recognizes and exploits. Gwen suffers from a disease, too, but of a different kind. Eventually, Connor’s and Gwen’s stories combine. The switches in perspective are frequent, chapters are short, and there’s a lot of white space. These stylistic choices create an urgency to the story, which is perfectly paced (if perhaps just a touch too short). I know next to nothing about the actual Amityville events, so I can’t tell you how much of the book pulls from them and how much springs completely from Ostow’s imagination. What I can tell you is that Ostow excels at creating a haunting mood, one that isn’t driven by gore or things that jump out at you. It’s a slow burn, and by the end, most readers should be deliciously scared. Keep the lights on.
The In-Between by Barbara Stewart
The voice is what makes this book stand out from other is-it-or-isn’t-it-a-ghost stories. Ellie is fourteen, depressed, and on her way to a new town with her parents to make a fresh start. On the way there, her family’s car is involved in a crash which kills one of her parents and her cat. Ellie herself is seriously injured, but she pulls through. In her new home, she meets Madeline, a beautiful, perfect girl who quickly becomes her best friend. But then Madeline is gone, and Ellie finds herself adrift without her, struggling once again to put together the broken pieces of her life – and mostly failing.
Ellie’s story is difficult to read sometimes – she’s in such pain, and her voice is so achingly fourteen. It would take a hard heart not to be transported back to one’s own adolescence while reading this. Though I didn’t experience the same exact problems as Ellie, Stewart’s writing made me acutely aware of just how everything felt at that time in my life. Fourteen year olds experience things differently than adults. Sometimes it hurts to remember that. This is a first person story, told through Ellie’s journals (though it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly like an epistolary novel) and we are close, so very close, to Ellie as narrator. It’s possible she’s unreliable. What’s more likely, at least to me, is that Ellie just doesn’t know what’s going on. She can’t trust her own experiences, so we as readers can’t either. This is a short, intense read that should resonate with a lot of teens, many of whom will see themselves in Ellie.