Poetry Friday: Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers by Gloria Whelan

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers By Gloria Whelan. Illustrated by Yan Nascimbene. Sleeping Bear Press, 2008.

This week and next in our homeschool we’re traveling to Japan: sushi, haiku, kimonos, rice paper, origami, big city, small farm, tsunamis, cherry blossoms. And what else might we discover in our imaginary journey to Japan?

When you’re looking for children’s books with an international setting and flavor, Gloria Whelan is a go-to author, and Sleeping Bear Press is definitely a premier publisher of such books. Sleeping Bear has published a whole bushel basket of alphabet books featuring different countries, states, regions, and interests from A is for Aloha: A Hawai’i Alphabet to K is for Kabuki: A Japan Alphabet to Z is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet. And their non-alphabet, non-concept books rate high in both beauty and educational value, too. Sleeping Bear Press specializes in picture books, ergo the pictures in the books are delightful, colorful, and rich in detail.

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers is no exception to that description. The illustrations, in double page and page and a half spreads, are Japanese in flavor, with the delicate figures and light and dark contrasts of Japanese character writing. However, there’s also a lot of color splashed all over these pages to delight the eye and engage the imagination. Yan Nascimbene also did the small, intricate illustrations for another lovely picture book set in Japan, Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog by Pamela S. Turner.

Gloria Whelan’s text tells the story of an seventeenth or eighteenth century girl, Yuki, who must accompany her family on a 300 mile journey to the capital city of Edo. Yuki must ride in a palanquin (most of the time), and her teacher has given her an assignment to write a haiku every day to chronicle the journey. Yuki writes all of her longing for home and her fears about the future as well as her enjoyment in the small pleasures of each day into her haiku.

Once outside the gate
how will I find my way back?
Will home disappear?

River is busy
making its own long journey;
it doesn’t look back.

Gulls write their haiku
in the sky, dipping and darting,
not caged in a box.

Once during the long journey, Yuki is able to climb out of the palanquin and walk a little way. She writes:

Grass under my feet
plum blossoms drift down on me
just for a minute.

Finally, the family reach Edo, the end of their journey, and Yuki learns to appreciate where she is, instead of always looking back to long for her old home.

The book is a fantastic introduction to historical Japan and a lovely story of overcoming homesickness through poetry and awareness of daily blessings.

Jama’s Alphabet Soup has today’s Poetry Friday Roundup.

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

OK, this one is easily the best children’s fiction title I’ve read this year. It has all the following strengths:

1. It’s funny. Cf. the first chapter, entitled “I Am Not Exactly in the Lake District.” What makes that funny is that Liam, the thirteen year old protagonist and narrator of this adventure story, is actually “on this rocket . . . about two hundred thousand miles above the surface of the Earth.” Cosmic is about how Liam got into space and what happened when he did. Short version: he lied about his age.

2. It’s British. Not too British. Not so thick with slang that one has to have a dictionary, but still the Britishisms are there and delightfully so. Liam and his dad carry a “mobile,” not a cell. Things are either “rubbish” or “cosmic.” Liam eats crisps. You get the idea.

3. It’s got a good solid, unbelievable, but satisfying premise: child pretends to be adult, and hijinks ensue. Freaky Friday material. But there’s no magic involved. Liam just looks old. He has facial hair at thirteen. He’s very tall. He keeps getting mistaken for an adult, so he does what most thirteen year old boys would like to do: he goes along with the mistaken identity. Liam’s lack of a driver’s license only slows him down, but doesn’t stop his adventures.

4. It’s well-written and well-paced. Stuff happens. Liam gets into trouble, out of trouble, back into trouble, out, then into MAJOR trouble. Being stuck in space with four other kids who don’t know much more than Liam about how to fix an off-course rocket is Trouble.

5. Liam’s voice is splendid. Examples:
“That night Dad wanted us all to play Monopoly in the new kitchen. Has anyone ever played Monopoly to the end? Don’t most people just sort of slip into a sort of boredom coma after a few goes and wake up six months later with a handful of warm hotels?”

“Being doomed is Not Good. But being weightless is Outstanding. Every time I lean forward I do a perfect somersault. When I stretch my arms in the air I levitate. Back on Earth my only skills are being above average in math and height. Up here I’ve got so many skills I’m practically a Power Ranger.”

“In World of Warcraft you can have weapon skills, gathering skills, or trade skills. You can have mining skills, too, but they’re a bit rubbish and you have to buy a pickax.”

“I didn’t really want to think about things going wrong so I just concentrated on the drinks menu. I couldn’t believe when the others all asked for coffees and teas. There were so many drinks to choose from. I spotted something called the Cosmic Quencher, which I had to order because ‘cosmic’ is my favorite word.”

See what I mean. Liam is Cosmic!

Weaknesses of the book:
1. Totally unbelievable. How many thirteen year old boys can masquerade as the dad of one of their classmates?
2. Sometimes silly. Liam is not the brightest bulb in the ummmm, light fixture.
3. Disrespectful to adults. The adults in the story are also not too bright.
4. Encouraging irresponsible behavior. Don’t try this at home, kids!

I can’t think of any more weaknesses, and I actually think the weaknesses are strengths, too. Cosmic is a cosmic book for cosmic kids. Check it out.

More love for Cosmic:
Kelly at Big A little a.
Nayu’s Reading Corner.
Noel de Vries at Never Jam Today.

And it’s going to be made into a movie!

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

I just got around to reading Ms. Blundell’s National Book Award-winning young adult novel this weekend. If it wasn’t a 2008 publication, I would add it to my list of Best YA Books of 2009. It was nominated for the 2009 Cybils in the YA Fiction category, probably because it was published toward the end of 2008. And I’m not second guessing the panelists, but there must be some extra-fine books on the finalist list to have beaten this one out.

The setting and atmosphere reminded me of Mad Men and The Great Gatsby, although it takes place about a year after the end of World War II, in between Jay Gatsby’s follies (1922) and Don Draper’s escapades (1960’s). The setting and characters feel historically authentic, kind of film noir, with lots of cigarettes and Scotch and red lipstick and dancing and full skirts like those in White Christmas. I could imagine Alfred Hitchcock making a movie of this book, but I don’t know of anyone nowadays who could do it with the right touch.

The story itself is Hitchcock-ish, with “adultery, blackmail, and possible homicide,” very much dependent on the reader’s point of view, with a few surprising twists and turns along the way. I can imagine a very young Grace Kelly playing the lead part, a fifteen year old named Evie who has a crush on a twenty-three year old ex-GI named Peter (Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant?). There are a lot of scenes in which it’s obvious that something else is going on underneath the surface of the dialog, but it’s not so obvious just what that something else is. Hitchcock would have had a blast with camera angles and the characters’ complicated interactions.

The book is quite well-written. Evie, the narrator, has a voice that is vintage 1940’s and typical fifteen year old girl, going on forty, anxious to grow up and unsure of how. I chose a few lines to whet your appetite, almost at random:

“Now I recognized that other woman, the one I’d seen angry and turning her face away. All that pizzazz and underneath it was a whole lot of sad.”

“Ugly. Once in the schoolyard Herbie Connell threw a rock and it hit me in the back. This felt like that, ugly hitting me in the back. . . . I wanted to put my hands over my ears. I was gulping my tears into my mouth. I didn’t want to hear any more ugly tonight. So I ran.”

“I looked like a doll, a dish. The image in the mirror—it wasn’t me. If I had the clothes and the walk, I could make up a whole new person. I wasn’t who I used to be, anyway. A different me would do the thing I had to do today. The dish would do it.”

What I Saw and How I Lied is well worth your reading time as a coming-of-age novel, or a psychological thriller, or a study in family dynamics, or just a thoughtful, insight-filled romance. I found it intriguing, hard to put down, and fun to try to figure out.

Other bloggers said:

Bookshelves of Doom: “Evie Spooner’s story is a coming-of-age story. Like a lot of coming-of-age stories, there is a tragedy. Like a lot of coming-of-age stories, there is a first love. Like a lot of coming-of-age stories, our heroine learns that the adults in her life are not the shining stars she has always believed them to be. There are lies, there is betrayal, there is injustice, and Evie sees it all. Heck, as the title suggests, she participates in some of it.”

The Reading Zone: “I hate to summarize the book, because Judy Blundell has woven an intricate story, full of dark twists and turns down paths you can’t even imagine. There is murder, intrigue, a fascinating backdrop of World War II, racism, classism, and a classic (but dark) coming-of-age story. To summarize more would give away too much of the plot and I would hate to ruin it for anyone.”

The YA YA YA’S: “Blundell did an amazing job creating a moody, atmospheric, noirish novel. You can practically see the action unfurling before your eyes, complete with cigarette smoke wafting toward the ceiling. The atmosphere is so evocative that it elevates the quality of the book.”

At 5 Minutes for Books they’re inviting you to share a review that you read at anyone’s recommendation. I read What I Saw and How I Lied because of the many, many reviews I saw in the Kidlitosphere and because it won a National Book Award.

YA Fiction of 2008: The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante

At first, I thought this story about two teenage girls fleeing a cult/commune just didn’t ring true-to-life. One of the girls, Agnes, was way too indoctrinated to be believable, but the other girl, Honey, was too rebellious and knowledgeable to have been encased in a religious cult all her life. So, I came to believe in Agnes. She had doubts and fears, and she was confused. But Honey? Even though the author tried to explain her worldliness and her insight into the real structure of the cult by showing that she did have some contact with the outside world, a few visits to a nearby farm and a little bit of television on the sly, I just couldn’t quite see someone as worldly wise and personally strong as Honey coming out of a cult like the one described in the book.

Then, I read the author’s note at the end of the book and discovered that Cecilia Galante grew up in a commune much like the one in the book. Authoritarian and charismatic leader, psuedo-Catholic teachings, legalistic separation from the world. So, Ms. Galante has a lot more authority to write on the subject than I do, and if she says someone like Honey could come out of a lifelong immersion in such a group, immediately intact and decisive as a person, then who am I to argue?

Aside from my internal discussions with myself over characterization, I found this debut YA novel to be fascinating. It was all about lies and secrets and telling the truth and how important it is to have a self and to tell yourself and others the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
The villains (cult leaders and parents) are rather one-dimensional, but the book isn’t about them. It’s about Honey and Agnes and growing up and making decisions that are painful but necessary. Recommended for those who like to read about such things.

Other voices chiming in:
Jen Robinson’s Book Page: “The genius of this book is Galante’s telling of the story from both Agnes and Honey’s perspectives. Each girl’s personality comes through clearly, and together they give the reader a full perspective on life in this repressive religious commune.”

The Reading Zone: “Agnes’ grandmother and Honey plot to take all three children and escape the commune. Their journey begins an exploration of faith, friendship, religion and family for the two girls, as Agnes clings to her familiar faith while Honey desperately wants a new future.”

Sarah Miller: “This may be a book with something to say something about religion, but Cecilia Galante is smart enough not to turn her story into a pulpit. The plot is quick and intense, and the writing vivid enough that after Honey tasted her fist Big Mac, I just had to do the same.”

Little WIllow interviews Cecilia Galante.

2008 Cybils Winners

Yeah! Hooray! The 2008 Cybils winners were announced today.

Easy Readers: I Love My New Toy by Mo Willems. Mr. Willems is, by the way, Z-baby’s favorite author. She loves all of his books, but she is especially fond of the Pigeon books.

Middle Grade Fantasy and Science FIction: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Unfortunately, I tried twice but didn’t make it all the way through this Newbery Award winning book. When I read somewhere that it was partially inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, I understood the format and flow of the book a little better. I still don’t think I’ll go back to it.

Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Oh, YES! This book is the one I thought should win the Newbery or the Printz or something. I’m so glad the Cybils committee picked this book. Semicolon review here.

Fiction Picture Books: How To Heal a Broken WIng by Bob Graham.

Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels: Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. Ummmm . . . I have this book on my TBR shelf, but I haven’t read it because I’m prejudiced against graphic novels. I never liked comic books, even when I was a kid. Do you think it’s time I got over my irrational aversion to graphics?

Young Adult Graphic Novels: Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki.

Middle Grade Fiction: The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. Iwas on the MIddle Grade Fiction panel that picked the finalists, and I must say that I didn’t care too much for a couple of the books that our panel ended up choosing. I loved The London Eye Mystery, and I’m so pleased that it won. Semicolon review here.

Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction: The Year We Disappeared: A Father/Daughter Memoir by Cylin Busby and John Busby. This one needs to go on the TBR list.

Nonfiction Picture Books: Nic Bishop Frogs by Nic Bishop.

Poetry: Honeybee by Naomi Shihab Nye. Poetry and sicence mixed together sounds good.

Young Adult Fiction: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. I’m really excited about this one, too. Brown Bear Daughter and I both loved it. Semicolon review here.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I read a lot about this book, not spoilers just good reviews, before I read it, and I was afraid it might not live up to all the hype. With only one caveat, it did live up to its reputation. If you haven’t heard anything about the book, I’ll give you a quick synopsis or introduction so that you can tell if the book is something you might like. Then, I’ll get to the “buyer beware” part.

TV’s Survivor meets Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery. If they didn’t make you read The Lottery in high school, you’ll just have to stick with the Survivor image. The Hunger Games are a yearly event in Panem in which two selected participants, a boy and a girl, from each of 12 districts, are forced to fight to the death in a prepared, and hostile, environment. No one gets voted off this “island”, however, and only one person can win, the last man or woman left alive.

SIxteen year old Katniss Everdeen doesn’t believe she could possibly be chosen out of the thousand or so names that will be in the lottery in her district. And she certainly doesn’t expect to be paired with a boy from her district who confuses her by acting as if he has a romantic interest in Katniss. Does he really? Or is it a trick to make her vulnerable to attack? Or can she and Peeta, the baker’s son, work together against the others? But if all the others die, then what will Katniss do about Peeta, or vice-versa?

It’s violent, and somewhat disturbing in its presentation of an evil dictatorial government and a culture both decadent and draconian in its exploitation of its citizens, but the book is not sexually explicit at all, and the nastiness is limited to what you would expect in such a hellish and volatile situation. The themes of trust and deception, community-building and destroying, cooperation and competition were well-developed and fascinating. I think older teens and adults would find lots to discuss in this dystopian novel.

Now for the caveat: I hate books (and TV shows, with the exception of LOST) that end with a cliffhanger and the promise of a sequel. The Hunger Games concludes with a resolution about who “wins” The Hunger Games, but it also ends with unresolved issues and with these words:

END OF BOOK ONE

If that’s going to bother you, you may want to wait for the publication of Catching Fire, due out in September, 2009, and read them both together. I sort of halfway wish I had waited, but then again I did enjoy The Hunger Games very much. And I’ll be watching LOST next Wednesday, even though the producers of that show have left me hanging and twisting in the wind four times now already (Seasons 1-4), and I’m expecting them to do it again in May.

I guess I’m just a sucker for a good story, even if it does make me wait for the next installment.

Other views and reviews:
The Reading Zone: “I read this novel in less than a day. The action is non-stop and heartpounding at many points in the story. Katniss is a likable character: she isn’t perfect, she isn’t a moral compass, and sometimes you even want to hate her. However, the situation she is thrust into is eerily similar to the modern-day obsession with reality TV and you can’t help but wonder if this the frightening direction into which we are headed.”

My Favorite Author has an interview with Suzanne Collins in which Ms. Collins cites the story of Theseus as one inspiration for The Hunger Games. I actually thought about Theseus being chosen to face the Minotaur as I read the first few chapters of The Hunger Games.

Quippe: “Collins gives Katniss a strong first person voice and seen through her eyes, the future is a dark and violent place. Despite the risk of descending into exposition, Collins strikes the balance between showing and telling with the result that her world building is vivid and credible, deftly setting out Katniss’s struggle to survive in the economically poor District 12 following the death of her father in a mining accident and her apothecary mother’s descent into depression.”

Shelf Elf: “She tells a tale that is tight and swift and yet still manages to remain complex in its themes. About halfway through, I crawled out of my couch-nest and wandered into the kitchen and said to my fella, ‘I can’t think of any way this book could possibly end that wouldn’t be completely devastating. This book rocks.’ (Back to couch).”

Random Wonder: “All I can say is that right now author Suzanne Collins had better be holed up in her house writing frantically. Not since Pottermania have I so desperately hungered for a sequel.”

Newbery/Caldecott and Other Predictions

My picks:

The Newbery Award is awarded to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Winner: The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.
Honor Books: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall.
Alvin Ho by Lenore Look.
Masterpiece by Elise Broach.

The Caldecott Award is given to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
Winner: Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young.
Honor Books: I don’t know enough to predict an honor book.

Prinz Award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.
Winner: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
Honor Books: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart.
Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers.

Geisel Award for the most distinguished American book for beginning readers.
Winner: I Will Surprise My Friend by Mo WIllems.
Honor Books: Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig by Kate DiCamillo

The buzz:
Fuse 8: Newbery/Caldecott Predict-o-rama Ms. Fuse is picking Chains, which I haven’t read yet, for the Newbery. She says my pick, The Underneath, is “divisive”. I don’t get the divisive tag. but I guess it is. Our Cybils Middle Grade Fiction committee was “divided” on its merits. Obviously, I’m in the pro-camp.

ACPL Mock Newbery also chose Chains. I gotta get me a copy of that book.

Monica Edinger mentions several possible winners in her article about “child appeal” and the Newbery.

The folks at Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog chose The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdich. I started to read it, but didn’t even finish it because I found it boring in the extreme.

Sandy thinks maybe Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. I guess I’ll have to try again on that one. I didn’t get past the first few pages when the assassin stabbed the toddler’s teddy bear through the heart thinking it was the child. (No spoiler that; as I said, that happens on about the first or second page of the book.)

The children’s librarian who blogs at Wizards WIreless made her predictions way back in October, 2008. And her choice is: The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, with Trouble by Gary Schmidt getting an Honor sticker.

Matt at The Book Club Shelf, one of my fellow Cybils panelists, thinks Diamond WIllow by Helen Frost will win the Newbery.

Emily at Book Kids has some Prinz picks.

If you have Newbery, Prinz, Caldecott or other predictions, leave me a comment or a link to your post. The winners of these award and other ALA sponsored awrds for children’s literature will be announced on Monday, January 26, 2009 at 8:45 AM Central TIme. You can watch the announcement via live webcast.

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher

“It’s taxi-dancing. The customers rent you, like a taxi. Get it?”

Ruby Jacinski is tired of working at the meat-packing plant in Back of the Yards, Chicago. When handsome Paulie Suelze tells her that she can get a job that pays fifty dollars a week —just for dancing—Ruby’s ready and willing. Unfortunately, Ruby’s Ma can’t know what she’s doing. Ruby is only fifteen, and Ma would never allow her to work at the Starlight Dance Academy with its “fifty beautiful female instructresses.” But if teaching old guys the Lindy hop and the box step for ten cents a dance will get Ruby out of the packing plant and her family out of poverty, Ruby’s determined to do it.

This book reminded me of a Young Adult version of Joyce Carol Oates’ them, a book I read last year. However I liked Ten Cents a Dance much better than I did them. Ruby was a sympathetic character, and I never felt as if the author was condescending to her or analyzing her actions like a scientist analyzing a bug specimen. I wanted Ruby to make different, better choices, but I could see how one bad decision led to the next in a downward spiral that almost ended in complete tragedy.

I’d recommend this one for older teens; there’s some language and the situation Ruby gets herself into isn’t pretty at all. However, for young adults and older adults this is a fine look at Depression era Chicago poverty just before the start of World War II, and also a good story of a girl growing up, taking responsibility for her choices and making something good out of her life in spite of it all.

Christine Fletcher’s blog.

The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson

It’s one of the finalists for the Cybils Fantasy and Science Fiction Award, and I can see why. Nevertheless, I thought it was . . . odd. But maybe it’s supposed to be odd. Maybe I just have a low tolerance for odd, or at least for this particular kind of odd. I didn’t dislike the book; I just wasn’t sure I liked feeling slightly off-balance for 448 pages. And then I still had lots of unanswered questions; it’s obvious from the ending that a sequel or two is meant to follow.

So first note for potential readers: if you want all your loose ends tied together and all your questions answered, wait for the sequel and read them together. From Ms. Davidson’s blog:

My big goal for January: finish writing the sequel to The Explosionist, The Snow Queen!

I’m not quite sure how the publisher’s schedule works, but I would think that if all goes as planned, the book would be published in winter or early spring of 2010 – I’ll post more details here as things develop.

Next note: the book is based on an alternative history. In the world of this story, Napoleon defeated Wellington at Waterloo. The countries of Northern Europe, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland and others formed the Hanseatic League and eventually fought a Great War against the European Federation. England fell to the Europeans and became part of the Federation. Science and technology, art and literature all took different turns, although some of the names—Alfred Nobel, Alexander Bell, WIlliam James, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Michael Faraday, and others—remained the same. This alternate history aspect of the novel was part of what served to keep me slightly disoriented as I read.

Sophie, the main character of the novel, lives in a society that is passionately dependent on science and technology and yet also permeated by a strong belief in spiritualism and communication with the dead in the spirit world. Sophie herself is interested in science, especially chemistry, but she’s also something of an unwilling spirit medium. This joining of science and superstition seemed incongruous and disturbing, but also somewhat compelling in its peculiarity.

If any of this unbalanced oddity sounds like the kind of strange that matches yours, you may want to give The Explosionist a try. I’m still not sure what I think about it. I’ll probably read The Snow Queen and get some more answers before I render a final verdict.

Other Explosionist readers:

Jocelyn at Teen Book Review: “Like I said, this is a difficult book to explain, but not difficult to finish–I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! There’s suspense and intrigue and mystery and adventure and even a bit of romance.”

Charlotte’s Library: “I am an inveterate reader of British school girl stories, and in many ways The Explosionist is heir to one particular sub-genre of these books–the plucky school girl who foils the Enemy Plot.”

Bookshipper: “The main character is smart, intelligent and likeable. As I was reading, the word gothic came to mind – the setting is described in a dark, broody and somewhat mysterious way – adding to the charm of this book.”

A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

The story of Rumplestiltskin is what folklorists call a ‘Name of the Helper’ tale, in which a character must defeat a mysterious helper by discovering his True Name (or Secret Name or Hidden Name). . . I’ve also found it fascinating that in Rumplestiltskin, the heroine is known only as ‘the miller’s daughter’ or ‘the queen,’ while Rumplestiltskin’s name becomes a magical talisman–an object of power in and of itself. In a story about the potency of names, the heroine is anonymous.” –From the Author’s Note at the end of the book.

Author Elizabeth Bunce gives the heroine in this retold fairy tale a name, Charlotte Miller. The other characters also have names: Rumplestiltskin becomes Jack Spinner, but of course, that’s only his everyday name. The revelation of his True Name awaits the end of the story. Charlotte’s love, and later husband, is Randall Woodstone, a stable and dependable pillar of love and faith in an otherwise precarious and unreliable world. Names and naming of both people and places in this book are very important. Note to readers: watch the names.

The setting, too, is a key to the entire story. Again, in her author’s note Bunce tells us that Charlotte’s village is not based on any real place. However, it is some combination of late eighteenth century England and New England and influenced by the woolen industries of those countries as the Industrial Revolution changes manufacturing from a village-based, home-worker centered system to a city-based, factory system. Charlotte’s world is a pagan, superstitious place, with only a veneer of Christianity symbolized by crisis prayers and an occasional blessing on official occasions. Curses and hexes and wards and magic circles are the powers that be in this setting, and Charlotte must learn to fight the shadows and the curses of the past with her own inner courage and the help of friendly villagers and family.

A Curse Dark As Gold paints a picture in story of the essential hopelessness and darkness of paganism without ever presenting much of an alternative. Charlotte finds the ability within herself to love and forgive and break the curse of the past, but I’m not sure where that power comes from. I found the entire story to be both fascinating and terrifying. If all I have to depend upon is my own inner strength, or even the kindness of friends and strangers, it’s not enough. Although some whispered and desperate prayers and some Christian symbolism underlie the final denouement of the story, I’m glad I don’t live in Charlotte’s neck of the woods. It’s a scary place.

Blogger reviews:
Miss Erin: “I wonder how many times the word “gold” or “golden” appears in the book!? Golden hair and golden fields and Gold Valley and gold gold gold . . . it was obviously a major theme in it. I love themes in books.”

The Puck in the Midden: “I loved the way that marriage is presented as imperfect, as flawed, as not the happy ending, but instead as merely the middle of someone’s story. I loved the strong female characters, Charlotte and Rosie both, and I loved their flaws. I loved the very creepy ghost story.”

Melissa at Book Nut: “It took me a while — 50 pages or so — to get the rhythm of the book, to understand what Bunce was trying to do with Charlotte (she grated on me at the beginning, but eventually I understood, and liked, her as a character), and to really enjoy what I was reading. But once I got past that point, life got put on hold.”