A Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty, was published in 2013 by Arthur A. Levine.
Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life, under mysterious circumstances, and settled in cramped quarters in a rainy corner of Cambridge, England. Meanwhile, in the Kingdom of Cello, Elliot is searching for his father. He disappeared a year ago, the same night that Elliot’s uncle was found dead on the side of the road. Official word is that a third-level Purple is responsible, but talk about town is that Elliot’s dad may have murdered his brother and run away with the high-school physics teacher. Elliot refuses to believe this, and is determined to find both his dad and the truth. When Madeleine and Elliot begin to exchange messages across worlds—through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries—the large and small events of their lives start to intertwine. Dangerous Colors are storming across Cello (a second-level gray will tear you to pieces; a first-level Yellow can blind you), while Madeleine is falling for her new friend jack. In Cello, they are searching for the tiny Butterfly Child, while Madeleine fears that her mother may be dangerously ill. Can a corner of white hold a kingdom? Can a stranger from another world help to solve the problems—and unravel the mysterious—in your own? And can Madeleine and Elliot find the missing pieces of themselves before it is too late?
A Corner of White, and by extension Jaclyn Moriarty, reminded me a great deal of Maggie Stiefvater’s works. Moriarty effortlessly blends together both the real world and Cello and makes Cello seem both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time with familiar aspects and fantastical additions. She also spends some time poking fun at worldbuilding and, perhaps, what people expect from fantasy worlds, with a letter from Madeleine asking Elliott everything under the sun about Cello (such as its politics, its stance on certain social issues, etc.). Yet even though Elliot never answers those questions, Cello never feels underdeveloped or weak as a world.
I also give props to Moriarty for making the plot become much more complex than I was expecting in the last few pages of the novel. I love flip-arounds like the one that happened here, and it made me eager to get the next book, as opposed to ambivalent as I felt for much of the book.
However, the main flaw of A Corner of White is that its characters, especially Madeleine, Belle and Jack, speak in increasingly unrealistic voices as the novel goes on. The trend in young adult literature nowadays seems to be quirky, philosophical teenagers who snark and talk in ways I’ve never heard teenagers speak and be witty and insightful in every dialogue they have. However, I’ve yet to meet a teenager who actually speaks like Madeleine or Belle or Jack speak in this book—and I hang around them for a living. It’s my problem with a lot of popular young adults books, such as Stiefvater’s (especially her villains) and John Green’s (Paper Towns was the most boring, pseudo-philosophical poetic piece of nonsense I’ve read in a while)—no one actually talks like that. No teenager has wit dripping from every line or has the perfect snarky comeback every time.
That’s the ironic thing about A Corner of White—Madeleine, Belle and Jack, and some of their situations (like the odd, absurd schooling they’re getting. Yay homeschooling, but boo the insane amount of quirkiness) seem more fantastic than Elliot and, to some extent, Cello. Elliot, at least, acts mostly like a normal teenager. I found myself liking Elliot’s story (point of view may be a more apt term) more and more, and liking Madeleine’s story (point of view) less and less.
However, despite the unrealisticness of most of the characters, A Corner of White, due to its truly surprising ending, got me hooked on the rest of the series. I’m not jumping up and down for joy after reading it, but I am looking forward to reading the next book. I just hope Madeleine is a little more realistic this time.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Mentions of drug abuse and infidelity.
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
“If you could just open the book at any page, Jack, and ask a question.”
“All right.” He flicked through the pages, whistling to himself, then said, “Here’s a good one. What is philematology?”
Now Holly turned to her daughter. “The only way this homeschooling thing is going to work,” she said sternly, “is if you forget that I’m your mother and respect me as a teacher.”
“You’re funny,” said Madeleine. “It’s like you keep surprising me that way.”
Belle took the book from Jack’s hands and flipped it to a different page.
“Who is Samuel Langhorne Clements?” she said. “I mean, who’s he better known as? Not, like, who is he? Cause you could just say Samuel Langhorne Clemens.”
You see.” Holly turned again to Madeleine. “It’s true that this brief interlude of question-asking—it’s true that it might incidentally help me prepare for my quiz show, but its primary purpose is to enliven your young minds.”
When mankind seeks protection from the world’s many dangers, they put their faith in warriors, kings, gods, and even money. In the neighboring kingdom of Clonmel, a mysterious cult has sprung up, promising defense against lawless marauders in exchange for people’s riches. Their sermons are attracting audiences from mils around, but there’s a dark side to this seemingly charitable group, prompting Halt, Will and Horace to investigate. What the trio uncovers could threaten the safety of not only Clonmel, but their homeland of Araluen as well.
The Kings of Clonmel is yet another Part 1 of 2 book, but it’s the best of the Part 1’s, in my opinion. A lot of the intrigue is this book is resolved, but there are still loose threads that will carry over to the next book—which is what makes The Kings of Clonmel a better Part 1 than those that came before it (The Icebound Land and The Sorcerer of the North).
Will continues to grow, but also continues to prove that he is a fully-fledged Ranger who can stand on his own and solve his own problems. Halt is Halt—awesome, but not so awesome that he seems inhuman. He does step in and solve a lot of the other characters’ problems, including Will’s and Horace’s, but it’s much less noticeable and invasive than it seemed at the beginning of the series, especially since Will and Horace can hold their own now. And Flanagan is clearly prepping for what will happen in the next book and the character development that will come about because of it, things that are a little more noticeable if you’ve read the series before. There’s not obvious clues, but there is a little bit of telegraphing, which I think is pretty neat.
The one thing that seems the most out of place or unrealistic in the series, something I noticed most prominently in Erak’s Ransom, is the horses. I’m definitely not an expert on horse training, so I could be way off base, but to me it seemed that the Ranger horses are stretching it a bit in terms of believability. But perhaps horses can actually be trained to react to noises and whatever else the Ranger horses do—it is plausible, but for some reason, in the story I’m not buying it so much.
The Kings of Clonmel is yet another enjoyable, awesome book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. These books are just plain fun to read and it helps that the plot and other details are quite good, as is the world building. This book was the best “Part 1 of 2” in the series, a good sign that Flanagan is continuously improving in his writing—which means better books to come.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
“You can swim, I assume?”
“Yes, I can swim,” Colly said. “But I’m not going jumping off some bluff just because you say so!”
“No, no. Of course not. That’d be asking far too much of you. You’ll jump off because if you don’t, I’ll shoot you. It’ll be the same effect, really. If I have to shoot you, you’ll fall off. But I thought I’d give you a chance to survive.” Halt paused, then added, “Oh, and if you decide to run downhill, I’ll also shoot you with an arrow. Uphill and off is really your only chance of survival.”
Eleven-year-old Livie is keeping a secret, and it’s crushing her. She knows she is responsible for her mother’s coma, but she can’t tell anyone. And it’s up to her to find a way to wake her mamma before anyone uncovers the truth of what really happened. Added to the list of Livie’s problems are being stuck in the middle of three sisters, trying to hide a forbidden pet alligator, and possibly disappointing her daddy, whom she loves more than anyone else. Livie feels like an outsider and prefers the solitude of the wild bayou to her ever-crowded home. But she can’t run away from her troubles, and as she struggles to find her place within her family, Livie learns a lot about the powers of faith and redemption. Is her heat big enough to heal her mamma and bring her family back together?
The Healing Spell is a charming, heartwarming story about a young girl who both longs for and dreads her mother waking up from a coma and the lessons she learns about love, her family, and herself along the way. It’s got a nice balance of “this is what this means” and “this might be what this means but I’m not going to say it straight out” and it never crosses the line into triteness.
While the plot, and especially its ending, is predictable, it’s not so predictable that you don’t enjoy the journey along the way. Books like this one tend to make me cry, and while The Healing Spell didn’t quite get there, Livie’s moments of sadness and loneliness are well-executed and never seem over-the-top or melodramatic. Similarly, her moments of learning and realization are also well-done and, as I mentioned above, the message is delivered in a good balance of subtle, but not so subtle as to be nearly invisible.
The book itself is a beautiful example of faith amidst sorrow and hope amidst despair. I know some people would probably hate this book for its ending, but I think the ending was appropriate; it fit the situation and what the author was trying to say. It wasn’t preachy, but there was definitely a message there to be delivered. The Healing Spell is a lovely book and I’m glad I picked it up.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic
“And you got yourself a baby gator!”
I nodded. “Isn’t he beautiful?”
Jeannie leaned over to touch the top of his head. “I think he likes you.”
I held him up and looked him in the eye. He opened his mouth and showed off his tiny pearly teeth. “I think I’ll call you T-Baby.” The tiny gator was staring up at me as if I was his mamma. It was the funniest thing.
“What are you gonna do with him? You aren’t taking him home, are you?”
I shrugged. “No, just keeping my eye on him.”
“My daddy would tan my hide if he saw me with a baby alligator.”
“My daddy, too,” I admitted, but a longing rose in my heart. I wanted that baby gator to be mine.
Aidan Cain has had the worst week of his life. Creepy, sinister beings want him dead. What’s a boy to do? With danger nipping at his heels, Aidan flees to Melstone, a village teeming with magic of its own. There he is taken in by Andrew Hope, the new master of Melstone House, who has some supernatural troubles too. Someone is stealing power from the area—mingling magics—and chaos is swiftly rising. Are Aidan’s and Andre’s magical dilemmas connected somehow? And will they be able to unite their powers and unlock the secrets of Melstone before the countryside comes apart at the seams?
Enchanted Glass is probably my favorite of Diana Wynne Jones’s later works; it reads much more like her old works and is less haphazard and abrupt than The Islands of Chaldea and others. That’s not to say it’s without flaws, but for the most part Jones proves herself, once again, as a fantastic fantasy writer with this book.
Jones has such a distinctive voice in fantasy to me that no other reader I’ve read has been able to replicate it; there’s something so quintessentially “Diana Wynne Jones” about her works that make them stand a cut above the rest. There’s something about her books that make me smile when I read them, that make me revel in the world and the magic and the little bits of humor and the DWJ-ness of it all.
Enchanted Glass does have flaws, though, mostly resulting in a lack of explanation about the little details of the world and the characters. For example, it’s never explained why none of the fairies can get Aidan’s name correctly, even after hearing it. Presumably some sort of spell was put on him to protect him, but if so, who did it? His grandmother? It seemed like an awfully convenient plot device, done solely so that Aidan didn’t immediately go with Mabel and Titania, which is a little disappointing if so. There’s a possible explanation, which makes it a little better, but since it’s never fully explained it seems a little hand-wavey to me.
It’s definitely not the best of DWJ’s works, but Enchanted Glass has the charm and the voice that every one of her books seems to have. Along with a pretty decent world and magic (with some flaws), it makes this book one of DWJ’s better works, unique enough to stand out from other fantasy books and good enough to stand next to her more well-known books.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
“Tell me, do you always take your glasses off to count money?”
Aidan lost count again. “No,” he said irritably. Must Andrew keep interrupting? “Only to see if something’s real—or magical—or real and magical. Or to keep it there if it’s only magical. You must know how it works. I’ve seen you do it too.”
“I don’t think I—How do you mean?” Andrew asked, startled.
“When you’re working with magic,” Aidan explained. “You take your glasses off and clean them when you want people to do what you say.”
The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar, was published in 2010 by Delacorte Press.
The summer after junior year of high school looks bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him to hook up with his best friend. He has no money and no job. His parents insist that he drive his great-uncle Lester to his bridge club four times a week and be his cardturner—whatever that means. Alton’s uncle is old, blind, very sick, and very rich. But Alton’s parents aren’t the only ones trying to worm their way into Lester Trapp’s good graces. They’re in competition with his longtime housekeeper, his alluring young nurse, and the crazy Castaneda family, who seem to have a mysterious influence over him. Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty and shy Toni Castaneda. As the summer goes on, he struggles to figure out what it all means, and ultimately to figure out the meaning of his own life.
The Cardturner is a story about bridge. That’s really the simplest way to put it. It’s a story about how to play bridge wrapped up in the story of a boy and his uncle. And Sachar manages to describe the complicated game in a perfect way, lessening its complexity, putting the rules into the voice of a teenager also learning to play bridge, and describing scenarios with helpful diagrams so that the reader knows, by the time Alton and Toni get to nationals, how important/amazing certain hands/rounds are.
I’ve read this book before, and it sucked me in for a reason I couldn’t—and still can’t—identify. I recently read Fuzzy Mud by Sachar, which was a disappointing read, and so going into this book I was a little worried that my memory of it would let me down. However, perhaps I just enjoy stories about beginners who start out with a sport or a game, not knowing how to play, and then, through practice and study, work their way up to the big leagues. Perhaps it’s the way Sachar explains the game, or the way he interweaves humor into its explanation, or the backstory given about Trapp. Whatever it is, I found The Cardturner compelling and, pun definitely intended, a page turner, exactly like I did the first time.
Now, that’s not to say there weren’t any parts I didn’t like. The entire conversation with Trapp and Alton about how ideas are the only thing that are alive was nonsensical, although I suppose Sachar did it so that he could include Alton and Toni hearing voices without going the psychological or supernatural route. Speaking of which, that part of the novel is a little hard to swallow, though it does make for a good read and emphasizes Alton’s grit and success in a way that would have been lacking without it. However, The Cardturner is best when it’s not philosophizing and sticks to describing bridge, a game I almost never play but definitely enjoy knowing more about, thanks to this book.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Some innuendo, mentions of domestic abuse.
Genre: Realistic, Young Adult
I learned what I was supposed to do if Trapp was dealt a hand with no cards in one suit. I’d say the word void. So when telling him his hand, I’d say something like “Spades: ten, nine, eight, seven, six. Hearts: king, queen, jack. Diamonds: void. Clubs: ace, nine, six, three, two.”
I also began to understand how the game was played. I learned what trump meant. I wouldn’t admit it to my uncle, but the game began to intrigue me. I would sometimes try to guess what card he’s play before he told me to play it, but don’t worry, I never asked, “Are you sure?”
Elodie journeys to the town of Two Castles to become a mansioner—an actress—but the master of the troupe turns her away. Brilliant dragon Meenore takes her in, then sends her on a dangerous mission within an ogre’s castle. There, disguised as a kitchen maid, she plays the role of a lifetime, pitted against a foe intent on murder. Black-and-white cats, a handsome cat trainer, a greedy king, a giddy princess, a shape-shifting ogre, a brilliant dragon…Elodie must discover which of them is kind, which is cruel, and, most of all which is the one who deserves her trust.
A Tale of Two Castles is just the sort of simple fantasy I love—enough worldbuilding so that the reader understands what’s going on, a smart, compelling protagonist who isn’t particularly gutsy or strong but still accomplishes things, and humor. There’s also an obvious shout-out to “Puss in Boots” all throughout the novel, though I wouldn’t call this a retelling at all.
I also liked the correlation between logic and emotion, where Meenore, in the beginning, scorns feelings and relies only on “induction and deduction and logic” but towards the end of the novel clearly has become fond of Elodie and uses those feelings in making decisions along with her logic. Levine might have been trying to make the point that logic without feeling makes one cold or perhaps the natural progression of things simply makes it seem that she did it purposefully, but either way, there’s a good deal here to discuss regarding the relationship between logic and emotion.
The plot is also a fun little mystery, with too many suspects and not enough clues until everything clicks into place. And, mild spoiler here, the suspect is one that is the most unsuspicious of them all, at least in my opinion, which makes the ending reveal delightfully surprising. Levine did a great job with her red herrings and speculations, having enough to make it realistic but not enough to make it seem over-the-top and contrived.
A Tale of Two Castles is delightful, with an intriguing mystery, interesting and unique characters, and solid worldbuilding. It was much better than I initially thought it would be, and a pleasant, fun read after the messy fantasies I’ve read lately. I haven’t read any of Levine’s works since The Two Princesses of Bamarre, but I’m glad I picked this one up.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
The count approached IT. “Three skewers, if you please.”
What about everyone in line? That was no true If you please. Clearly an ogre did what he liked, no matter the inconvenience to small folk.
“It’s isn’t fair!” burst out of me.
The silence seemed to crystallize.
Enh enh enh, IT laughed, possibly in anticipation of seeing me squeezed to death in one enormous hand.
Disclaimer: The One True Love of Alice-Ann, by Eva Marie Everson, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Living in rural Georgia in 1941, sixteen-year-old Alice-Ann has her heart set on her brother’s friend Mack; despite their five-year age gap, Alice-Ann knows she can make Mack see her for the woman she’ll become. But when they receive news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and Mack decides to enlist, Alice-Ann realizes she must declare her love before he leaves. Though promising to write, Mack leaves without confirmation that her love is returned. But Alice-Ann is determined to wear the wedding dress her maiden aunt never had a chance to wear—having lost her fiancé long ago. As their correspondence continues over the next three years, Mack and Alice-Ann are drawn closer together. But then Mack’s letters ease altogether, leaving Alice-Ann to fear the worst. Dreading the war will leave her with a beautiful dress and no happily ever after, Alice-Ann fills her days with work and caring for her best friend’s war-torn brother, Carlton. As time passes and their friendship develops in something more, Alice-Ann wonders if she’ll ever be prepared to say good-bye to her one true love and embrace the future God has in store with a newfound love. Or will a sudden call from overseas change everything?
My rating: 4/5
I tend to enjoy World War II-era novels, so I was looking forward to reading The One True Love of Alice-Ann. The author, Eva Marie Everson, is also the same person who wrote Five Brides, which I quite enjoyed. And, happily—this book was great.
Though Alice-Ann’s angst over who she really loves is not quite convincing enough—I knew long before she did whom she didn’t truly love—making a lot of the last third of the book a little tedious to read as she agonizes, I thought the overall message behind that was good and well-expressed. And even though the outcome is, perhaps, a little predictable, the focus is much more on Alice-Ann’s discovery of her feelings and the realizations she makes rather than on a “who is she going to pick?” love-triangle-esque romantic plot.
The biggest negative I had about the book is Alice-Ann is the type of protagonist who doesn’t think she’s beautiful and envies all the beautiful women around her. There are certainly people who think that, but it’s a little hard to read. I suppose it fits Alice-Ann as a sixteen-year-old, though, and her thoughts on this do die down a little as she grows up and realizes what’s most important. At least Everson didn’t play the “she doesn’t know she’s beautiful” card, which would have been irritating.
I really enjoyed The One True Love of Alice-Ann, which is full of charm, has a good romantic plot, and despite its predictability is still an engaging read because of Alice-Ann’s journey as she learns more about love as opposed to infatuation. The message behind the novel, “You can’t choose who you love but you can choose who you marry” is a good one to emphasize and overall was developed very nicely throughout the book. I would read more books by Everson.
I’m starting a new series/reading goal: reading every book awarded with the Newbery Medal! While I will not be sticking to straight chronology, I do plan to go as chronologically as possible. Each book I review will have [Year] Newbery Medal before the name in the title of the blog, and I will have a separate page just of the Newbery Medal books I review. I have read some Newbery Medals already, so I will add to their titles.
The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle, by Hugh Lofting, was first published in 1922. I read the Illustrated Junior Library version published in 1998.
Doctor Dolittle, the veterinarian who can actually talk to animals, sets sail on the high seas for new adventures with Polynesia the parrot, Jip the dog, Chee-Chee the monkey, and young Tommy Stubbins. Together they travel to Spidermonkey Island, brave a shipwreck, and meet the incredible Great Glass Sea Snail.
Dr. Doolittle is a series that I read a lot when I was younger. For a story about a man who can talk to animals, it’s surprisingly mature and lacking in silliness. The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle is very much a seafaring adventure whose main character also happens to have the ability to speak to animals. The only thing lacking that would make this a standard adventure novel are pirates and buried treasure, and Lofting replaces those with a shipwreck, a battle, and politics, all of which make for sometimes funny, sometimes serious adventure that is much more mature in terms of language and plot than I remember it being.
Now, having been written in the 1920s, all the things you might expect an author from that time period to include that would be different from today are there. I definitely don’t think either Bumpo or the natives of Spidermonkey Island are portrayed in a negative light, but it would not surprise me at all if there was some essay or argument out there explaining perceived negative stereotypes. Bumpo is an intelligent African prince studying at Oxford, who does use language incorrectly but only for comic relief (although some people might have a problem with even that initial premise). As for the natives, Long Arrow, in particular, is described many times as a great naturalist and while the terminology to describe the natives are not terms we would use nowadays, I feel like Lofting dealt with them with a great deal of respect. Perhaps you disagree, and that’s okay.
The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle is technically the second Dr. Doolittle book, but it is absolutely not necessary to have read the first. It’s a fun little adventure about a naturalist who can talk to animals and his adventures with his assistant, his friend, and the animals who accompany him (Polynesia is the best). It also says some good things about duty and responsibility, curiosity, and helping others. It brought back a lot of fond memories for me and was an auspicious start to my Newbery Medal reads!
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Warnings: Includes what some people today would probably deem “cultural insensitivity” at least.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Children’s
“From what the purple bird-of-paradise tells me, Long Arrow’s knowledge of natural history must be positively tremendous. His specialty is botany—plants and all that sort of thing. But he knows a lot about birds and animals too. He’s very good on bees and beetles. But now tell me, Stubbins, are you quite sure that you really want to be a naturalist?”
“Yes,” said I, “my mind is made up.”
“Well you know, it isn’t a very good profession for making money. Not at all, it isn’t. Most of the good naturalists don’t make any money whatever. All they do is spend money, buying butterfly nets and cases for birds’ eggs and things. It is only now, after I have been a naturalist for many years, that I am beginning to make a little money from the books I write.”
“I don’t care about money,” I said. “I want to be a naturalist.”
After the spell protecting her is destroyed, Rose seeks safety in the world outside the valley she had called home. She’s been kept hidden all her life to delay the three curses she was born with—curses that will put her into her own fairy tale and a century-long slumber. Accompanied by the handsome and mysterious Watcher, Griff, and his witty and warmhearted partner, Quirk, Rose tries to escape from the ties that bind her to her story. But will the path they take lead them to freedom, or will it bring them straight into the fairy tale they are trying to avoid?
Rose & Thorn is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, though perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s a reimaging. Rose & Thorn is a sequel of sorts to Ash & Bramble, which set up the idea of Story forcing people to fulfill fairy tales over and over. So, the main goal of the characters is to not have the original fairy tale happen, so things go a little differently than one might expect (although saying that may be spoilery, but oh well).
It’s a beautiful retelling of Sleeping Beauty, a fairy tale I don’t actually much like, and there’s loads of originality throughout. Rose is a great protagonist, the type of female protagonist I like. She’s not all gung-ho, “I can do everything cool and awesome” warrior-esque, which can get so tiring and boring. She’s much quieter and understated, which I prefer.
The romance was a little boring, but I find most romances boring in YA since it’s so clearly designed to appeal to teenagers. Griff as a character, at least, was interesting, although I thought the ending was a little rushed—it was believable, but definitely could have been more so in terms of his change.
The main problem of Rose & Thorn, and of Prineas’s fairytale retellings in general, is the concept of Story as this malevolent force that constrains people to its will somehow (through a Godmother, but then at the end it’s revealed it can act on its own, so why does it need a Godmother?) and forces them into fairy tales over and over. But not all stories are Story, only some—if they’re “your own stories,” whatever that is (seemingly the one you want). What if the story you want is the same one that Story wants? Anyway, it’s a little hard to swallow and several times it seems a little forced in the story, as if Prineas also realizes that an idea like Story is hard to convey or accept as realistic.
However, despite the problems of its underlying concept, Rose & Thorn is an imaginative, fresh retelling of Sleeping Beauty with memorable characters (even if you haven’t read Ash & Bramble) and an interesting protagonist, and carries enough appeal to make me want to keep reading Prineas’s fairy tale retellings.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Young Adult
“Ohhhh,” I breathed. This was the Forest. It had offered the clearing as a baited trap, I realized, and it had reached out to take me as I slept. Merry had told me that the Forest was evil, and maybe I should’ve been frightened, but I suddenly felt excited. Ready to go where the Forest led me.
It was, I realized, my story beginning. “Once upon a time…,” I whispered to myself.
I ate a quick bite of breakfast, rebraided my hair, washed my face in the stream—which hadn’t disappeared, like the road—put on my cloak, slung my knapsack over my shoulders, and, ready to start, turned in a slow circle, looking for a way through the trees.
“Once upon a time,” I repeated, “there was a girl who was searching for a path through an enchanted forest.”
Until Mousa’s father, the judge, brought a stepmother home to their palace in Fez, Mousa had always been very happy. But no sooner did Fatma arrive than trouble began. Such trouble! The beautiful fountain became clogged with date stones, thrown there by someone. The oranges disappeared from the judge’s favorite orange tree—not to mention ever so many other upsetting things, most of which were blamed on poor Mousa. Mousa felt sure that Allak, Fatma’s disagreeable gazelle, had a great deal to do with this mysterious mischief. But he never would have solved the riddle without Baha, the little desert fox, or without the magic the Toubib gave him.
Mischief in Fez is a story I read over and over again as a child. It was featured in one of the many anthologies of children’s literature my parents had. I’ve always remembered the story, but until recently, I couldn’t remember the name—until I did a quick Google search. Then, to my delight, my library carried it. I was all set to delve once more into a beloved childhood story.
Mischief in Fez may be short, but it’s full of myth and culture in a way that I don’t feel is haphazard or disrespectful at all. It’s almost reverent, in a way, of Middle Eastern beliefs, and it reads as if Hoffman actually spent some time in the area. Perhaps other people feel differently, but I feel as if Mischief in Fez is an accurate, if a small representative sample, of Middle Eastern culture. And to be honest, that’s not seen a lot today—for various reasons.
The story/novella is quite short, so there’s not much else I feel I can say about it besides the story is good: suitably tense in places and delightfully heartwarming in others. What I remembered most is the little fennec, Baha, and he is definitely the star of the show, even more so than Mousa, who I scarcely remembered at all.
Mischief in Fez is a perfect read-aloud or read-along book for children, with plenty to discuss about myth, certain aspects of Middle Eastern culture, and, most importantly, the drive to defeat evil. It’s a fond memory of my childhood, one I’m glad I decided to return to.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Children’s, Fantasy
Only the bride herself remained aloof and indifferent to the new mischiefs that seemed to be occurring each day. As she passed from room to room, her beauty made all her servants forget the grave looks of the master. And Allak, the gazelle, as he frisked about the court, cheered them with something alive and graceful to look at, for, like Mousa, they missed the doves.
But Mousa, to his surprise, found no pleasure in watching his stepmother’s gazelle. In all his life this was the first animal that he had not loved,–perhaps because he had been so sharply forbidden to touch him, perhaps because of the disdainful twitching of his nostrils, the hostile glowering of his eyes. Was it possible, he wondered, that Allak had stolen and devoured the oranges?