Into the Past
“Ye Toads and Vipers!”
Meggy Swann has reason to be angry. Her mother had finally succeeded in getting rid of her, having her dumped miles and miles from home at her father’s tiny house in London. She’s never met him before, and he clearly doesn’t want her. It’s not like she can run away somewhere else though. An accident at birth has left her legs crooked, and she is in constant pain.
Only able to walk with the help of two sticks, the world of 1573 can be an especially cruel place for such a one, but she has angrily adapted. Alchemy and Meggy Swann, by Karen Cushman, tells her story from the time she is dumped like a sack on her father’s narrow doorstep, frightened and seemingly helpless, to the brave things she must do to protect herself and others she has come to love.
Boxers & Saints are a masterful pair of graphic novels that offer perspective on both sides of China's Boxer Rebellion, a decade long struggle that I am ashamed to say I knew nothing about. The struggle hinged upon the arrival of Europeans who brought Christianity to the Chinese along with an unfortunate dose of subjugation.
“My name is Blaise Fortune, and I am a citizen of the French Republic. It’s the pure and simple truth.”
Koumail knows this phrase in French very well. It is vitally important that he remember it for he and Gloria, the woman who has looked after him since he was a baby, are refugees, and someday this phrase and an old passport may be his ticket to a better life away from war, starvation and danger. A Time of Miracles, by Anne-Laure Bondoux, is set in the 1990s, as war rages in the Caucasus region, and the Soviet Union has collapsed, leaving masses of people without shelter or food.
Storms batter the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Always have. Always will. Ships break up in those dangerous seas. Sometimes there are survivors but oftentimes not. It’s 1898, and waiting and watching are the surfmen—the rescuers of the Lifesaving Service—who take out boats in horrible weather and try to save whom they can. In Teetoncey, by Theodore Taylor, twelve-year-old Ben O’Neal is determined to become a surfman, leaving his mother’s storm-swaying house on a terrible night to go help at the Rescue Station. He’s seen the flare, and he knows—there’s a ship in trouble.
Fourteen-year-old Elenor did not wish to be married, particularly not to Lord Thomas. He had been away at the Crusades for years, and what Elenor remembered of him did nothing to endear him to her. What was more, there was so much of the world to see, and marriage would end her chances for adventure, or so she believes at the beginning of Frances Temple's The Ramsay Scallop.
From where he stood on the hill above the valley, Martin Crawford saw that the leader of the war band was in serious trouble. When a hunting horn sounded from behind, the leader ordered his men to scatter before the onslaught of English soldiers. They were on him in moments, but their numbers broke as they chased the leader's scattered men. In all his sixteen years, Martin had never seen a man fight as this one did, swinging his great sword beside his companions until the last living enemy fled in fear.
The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman gives readers a look at America’s past while at the same time encouraging them to take a hard look at its present. The novel centers around a 13-year-old girl named Sophie who lives with her recently divorced mother in New Orleans, Louisiana. The story opens with Sophie being taken to a rural part of Louisiana to spend the summer with her maiden aunt and ailing grandmother at the family’s crumbling plantation house while her mother stays in the city and studies to become an accountant.
There was a dragon in the sky the night the stranger came to Smolsund farm. A girl named Ran saw it and feared it. She clutched the tiny silver hammer, a talisman for Thor's protection. Amma, her father's mother, had placed it around her neck. She knew that her grandmother was worried for her, too. The Fated Sky, by Henrietta Branford, tells of how Ran's fears for her destiny came to be realized.
A child still in some ways, Ran shared her name with a sea goddess, and she also loved the sea. Her father was away now across the ocean with her brothers, and they might bring back riches when they returned, for that was the way of the Vikings. Ran dreamed of the day her father would return. She was so much like him: his dark hair and his proud features. Ran prayed for his safe homecoming. She prayed he did not feast with that other Ran at the bottom of the ocean.
When the storm blew in at dawn, Ran climbed the slope to the house. She saw her mother, still a beautiful woman, kissing a handsome man who was not her father!
While I was complaining to my parents about having to leave Los Angeles, a chemist in China was narrowly escaping arrest, and a Hungarian physicist was perfecting the ability to freeze time. I was drawn, through Benjamin and his father, into the web of what they have created.
What author Maile Meloy has created in The Apothecary is the incredibly enchanting adventure of Janie Scott. It is 1952, and Cold War paranoia has infiltrated Hollywood where Janie's folks have been accused of having Communist ties. Once Janie notices the men in dark suits following her home from school, it is not long before she and her parents have fled America for London.
In 1972, Richard Adams’ classic fantasy novel Watership Down was first published. This exciting adventure follows the travels of a group of rabbits seeking a new home after the destruction of their warren. Evocatively written and imaginatively plotted, this novel excelled in portraying the world we humans perceive as mundane as a place filled with danger and mystery, and also excelled in its depiction of the primitive religion and folklore the rabbits created to explain the natural environment. After I finished reading Watership Down a couple of months ago, I searched for a similar fantasy told from the perspective of animals, but finding a novel of its caliber proved difficult. Many of the other animal-centered fantasy stories I found were either too deliberately whimsical or too childish to live up to Adams’ novel. Eventually I found David Clement-Davies’ Fire Bringer and decided to give it a try based on the recommendation by Adams on the back cover. Filled with adventure, suspense, and gripping depictions of the natural world, this novel lived up to my lofty expectations.