A So-So Miss O

Review #24

Book: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Audience: C

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: bookbookbook

I was drawn to this story for two reasons. First of all, the name Ophelia is in the title. I have long had an affinity for the name, ever since my Nana told me about a friend of hers named Ophelia Foote. Then I saw Hamlet and liked the name even more, and then I saw John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia’s death scene and, gruesome as it sounds, just liked the name even more. Another reason that I picked this book up was because it is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. As I’ve recently mentioned, I am a sucker for fairy tales (authentic, fractured, reinvented, whatever) so between the name and the fairy tale connection, this was a no-brainer for me.

Wish I could say I was into the story as much as the reasons why I read it.

There was nothing terribly wrong with it (there was one semi-significant thing and I’ll get to that later), but there was nothing terribly right about it either.

Ophelia Worthington-Wittard, her sister Alice, and their widowed father have recently moved to London where Mr. Wittard has been engaged to set up a sword exhibit under the direction of the museum’s curator, Miss Kaminski. While exploring in the museum, Ophelia comes across a mural that includes a real door with the words The Marvelous Boy painted over it. Turns out that there really is a boy trapped behind the door in the painting. Moreover, this boy insists that he is a prisoner, sent by a protectorate of wizards from the east, west, and middle to find and deliver a magical sword to the One Other in order to defeat the Snow Queen and save the world. Despite her disbelief in all things magical, Ophelia reluctantly finds herself drawn into rescuing the Marvelous Boy and assisting him on his mission.

Pleasant enough storyline, with an appealing heroine in Ophelia. There is a good fairy tale quest, believable obstacles authentically overcome, good, evil, friendship, and some worthy coming-of-age moments including dealing with grief and finding inner courage. Lots of parts worked, but the story just didn’t gel together as whole for me. Even though I liked many of these parts, I really didn’t have an overall interest in this story. And since it is a reinvention of a fairy tale I know, I certainly knew where the plot was headed and, quite frankly, I was so ready to get there so I would be done reading the story. Not really a whole-hearted endorsement.

Then there was the item that actually bothered me. The identity of the Snow Queen, unbeknownst to the characters, was incredibly obvious to the reader. Now I know that I am an adult reading a book meant for children, but still, I think age-appropriate readers would have figured things out long before Ophelia did. Truly good writing has the reader and the characters figure things out simultaneously. The best children’s authors keep this in mind and do not write down to their readers. Miss Foxless should be cognizant of that. I still have bruises from the two-by-four which she used to apply her foreshadowing.

So there were lots of little things done right, one substantial thing done wrong, and a story that for some reason just didn’t appeal that much to me. I hope that child readers will enjoy this more than I did. But for me, Miss O was kind of a no.

Ready, Eager, and Determined to be Pleasing

Review #23

Book: Pride and Prejudice: The Graphic Novel by Laurence Sach

Audience: YA

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Rating: bookbookbookbookbook

In April of this year, I went to a meeting of the Eastern Pennsylvania Region of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA). I spent a delightful day at the stunningly beautiful Union League in Philadelphia listening to three presentations on Miss Austen’s unfinished work. I was assigned a character for the day (one of Miss Austen’s few scarlet ladies, Mrs. Penelope Clay) and sat between 2 interesting gentlemen who, to my surprise, were each married and unaccompanied by their wives. I tend to think of Miss Austen’s work as almost exclusively appealing to females. Nice to know I was wrong about that.

Anyway, while mingling among my chosen people, I, of course, had to buy some souvenirs. Chief among them was Pride and Prejudice: The Graphic Novel. I tend to be very proud and proprietary about the best book ever written and regard any derivations with a prejudiced eye, so I warily began to read it the following week. As noted by my rating, I loved it.

Using illustrations that were obviously inspired by both the 1994 BBC miniseries (with the excellent Jennifer Ehle and the sublime Colin Firth) and the 2005 feature film (with the passable Keira Knightley and better-than-anticipated Matthew MacFayden) Mr. Sach does justice to Miss Austen’s masterpiece. In condensed versions, items are necessarily omitted from the original work: supporting characters are combined/eliminated, less essential events are removed, or character development is curtailed (incidentally, all three of these customs are employed and quite noticeable in the Knightley-MacFayden film). Mr. Sach minimizes these practices and gives us an essentially intact story. His plot closely follows the original, and all needed characters are present and accounted for. Characters are also fully developed and we can see and understand both the motivations in the static characters (Jane, Bingley, and Mr. Collins among others) as well as the changes in the dynamic Elizabeth and Darcy. Very well done, indeed.

What impressed me most, though, was how well the story was adapted to the graphic format. As a graphic novel, everything must be conveyed through illustration and speech, whether monologue or dialogue. For the most part, Mr. Sach uses the language of the original novel. Speeches are shortened and descriptions are eliminated (though expressed through illustrations), but the language is essentially Miss Austen’s own. As both a purist and devoted Janeite, I was delighted that Mr. Sach seemed to want to honor and represent Miss Austen’s work in a new format, not re-interpret it with his own ideas and nuances.

Graphic novels are all the rage with both children and young adults. Recently, there has been some debate by the librarians in my school district about how much of our collections should be devoted to graphic novels. Some librarians seem to be concerned that if their patrons read only or predominately graphic novels that they will disregard quality literature. I believe that if a YA reader were to give Mr. Sach’s graphic representation of Pride and Prejudice a try, she would be very pleased to make the acquaintance of the original.

No Charms for Me

Review #22

Book: The Cheshire Cheese Cat  by Carmen Agra Deedy

Audience: C

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: bookbookbook

Like most of us of the female persuasion, I have a penchant for fairy tales, both in books and movies (although the books are just about always better!). Cinderella is a perennial favorite. And I love the Disney movie version—indeed, who could not love the adorable mice Jacques and Gus, more cutely known as Gus-Gus? As long as I’m talking about Disney movies, The Fox and the Hound is cute, The Rescuers sweet, and The Lion King lovely (the Broadway version phenomenal). These are examples of animal fantasy on screen that I enjoy. So why do I so strongly dislike animal fantasy on pages?

Yet dislike it I do. I’ve mentioned my aversion to Despereaux and a couple of years ago I read Masterpiece and hold it in total abhorrence. Even so, I thought I’d give the genre another try, especially as my library patrons often love these kinds of stories; hence, my reading of The Cheshire Cheese Cat.

Still dislike the genre.

Skilley, a street cat, lands in the Cheshire Cheese Inn, a perfect place for him since cheese is his favorite food. He befriends a mouse, Pip, and the two of them, along with the rest of the mouse community, conjure ways to get their supply of the inn’s famous cheese without the owners noticing. Along the way they attract the attention of Charles Dickens, do their best to avoid the evil cat Pinch, and throw themselves into the service of Queen Victoria by attempting to return the flightless raven Maldwyn to the Tower.

A simple, cute premise for a story. It had many elements that should appeal to me: set in England (always a good thing); involves an author and the writing of one of his stories, A Tale of Two Cities, (although, admittedly, the author being Dickens was no recommendation for me); and features English royalty (even though I admire Prince Albert more than Victoria). Yet dislike it I did.

I think my problem with the genre is that for some reason I cannot suspend my disbelief. I have no problems doing so for potions that can make a girl grow or shrink, jewelry that can bestow the power to rule the world, fairy godmothers, best friends who experience the same day over and over again, schools dedicated to the teaching of witchcraft and wizardry, or wardrobes that lead to other worlds. I can even do it for a spider who spins words in her web. But a mouse who can read and write? A girl and a mouse who can wordlessly communicate? Animals that can devise a plan to prevent chaos in the government? That is all too much for me.

For those who like the genre, this is likely a book they will find enchanting. I, however, could not wait for the enchantment to wear off.