Monday, January 26, 2009

PW's Starred Reviews

The Girl Who Wanted to Dance by Amy Ehrlich, illus. by Rebecca Walsh. Candlewick, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-1345-7
Both a haunting fairy tale and a parable for families separated by divorce or death, this lyrically rendered story also presents art as a vehicle for transcending pain. In a long-ago village, Clara lives with her silent father and loving grandmother, who tells her about her absent mother, a lover of music and dance. When musicians come to the village, Clara cannot resist their lure and slips away to the forest to dance with them at night; she comes close to joining them, but her father stops her—by coming out to the forest, recognizing his wife among the dancers, joining her briefly and forgiving her for leaving: “I understand you can’t come back.” Ehrlich (Baby Dragon) knows precisely how to turn description into the foundation of fairy tale (as Clara wades across a river, “the edge of her nightgown grew dark with water”), and her bittersweet ending barricades the story against didacticism. Working in a representational style, Walsh (How the Tiny People Grew Tall) adds lush paintings of an idealized old world, and her nighttime scenes glow. Ages 6-10. (Feb.)

The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4169-5940-3
In a trenchant romance, NBA finalist Caletti (The Fortunes of Indigo Skye) detonates a few stereotypes about love even as her 17-year-old narrator falls head over heels for Mr. Right. Quinn, raised by a mother whose favorite lecture is “All Men Are Assholes,” nevertheless feels loyal to her father, the eponymous Prince Charming whose self-centeredness harms the women he woos. She protects herself, she thinks, by making “good choices,” which, she belatedly realizes, “also meant other people’s choices.” But when she discovers that her father has stolen objects prized by each of his lovers and wives, she determines to return them to their rightful owners; it’s metaphorical as well as physical restitution. Joining up with a barely known half-sister, Quinn and her younger sister embark on a road trip; as the three meet the women injured by their father, Quinn also meets a wonderful guy, the antithesis of the supposedly safe boy she’d dated before; and everyone learns lessons in love. Interspersed throughout are monologues from the female adult characters (including Quinn’s grandmother and aunt, who live with her), which add both perspective and a large dose of wit. Caletti’s gifts for voice and for conjuring multidimensional personalities are at their sharpest. Ages 12–up. (Apr.)

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks. Harcourt, $17 (368p) ISBN 978-0-15-206609-3
Jinks’s signature facility with plot and character development is intact as she turns to the topic of vampires—as fans can anticipate, hers are not the romantic superheroes of the Stephenie Meyers books. Hers are a ragtag bunch: anemic, whiny, unattractive, they feed on guinea pigs (because they’re small, “their drained cadavers can be concealed without much effort,” and they breed quickly), and they turn for support to an idealistic priest. Nina, the narrator, is in her 50s, but was “infected” at 15 and chafes at being treated like an adolescent; she writes a sensational vampire series with a seductive, powerful heroine totally unlike herself, giving Jinks opportunity for comic contrasts. Throwing in delicious details and aperçus, the author works her way from the murder of one of the vampires to suspense and adventure of the sinister yet daffy variety beloved by readers of Evil Genius. The plot twists, more ornate than in previous works, ramp up the giddiness—and, perhaps, camouflage the corpses, blood and other byproducts of the genre. Ages 12–up. (Apr.)

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Viking, $17.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-670-01110-0
Acute anorexia, self-mutilation, dysfunctional families and the death of a childhood friend—returning to psychological minefields akin to those explored in Speak, Anderson delivers a harrowing story overlaid with a trace of mysticism. The book begins as Lia learns that her estranged best friend, Cassie, has been found dead in a motel room; Lia tells no one that, after six months of silence, Cassie called her 33 times just two days earlier, and that Lia didn’t pick up even once. With Lia as narrator, Anderson shows readers how anorexia comes to dominate the lives of those who suffer from it (here, both Lia and Cassie), even to the point of fueling intense competition between sufferers. The author sets up Lia’s history convincingly and with enviable economy—her driven mother is “Mom Dr. Marrigan,” while her stepmother’s values are summed up with a précis of her stepsister’s agenda: “Third grade is not too young for enrichment, you know.” This sturdy foundation supports riskier elements: subtle references to the myth of Persephone and a crucial plot line involving Cassie’s ghost and its appearances to Lia. As difficult as reading this novel can be, it is more difficult to put down. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)

Congratulations to all of these authors!

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