Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, 1996, 1998
Thirteen-year-old Hand comes home from school and finds his father dead on the floor. He is alone in a rundown motel and then alone at the hospital where he waits. His mother left his father and his older sister, Vida, three years before and moved to Seattle. Vida is in college a couple of hours away. When Hand is eventually reunited with his mother, he is full of anger over her abandonment of him and resentment that his sister has seemingly welcomed their mother back into their lives. On top of all that, guilt weighs heavily on him – if only he had come straight home from school instead of staying for track practice his father would still be alive and his mother on the West Coast.
This book tackles what is hard for anyone, let alone a child, which is the death of a loved one. Over the course of a year the reader watches Hand grow from a closed-down soul of a boy into an understanding and compassionate young man. In the end he still has issues with his mother but he knows he can move beyond those problems and back into the life as a teenager.
The author writes Hand with compassion, sensitivity and an eye toward all the jumbled-up emotions death brings. This is one of those stories that the author could easily have stretched into hundreds of pages but has distilled it down bare bones and raw emotions. Among all of the books I have read by Gregory Maguire, this numbers among the best –its brevity of word and accessibility for all ages (although it is geared toward 9-12) offers hope even in the midst of grief.
Click on the author’s name to go to his website.
This review also published on Library of Cats under the non de plume of ‘Toby’.
Egg & Spoon
Candlewick Press, 2014
Do you remember reading Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper? Well this fantasy novel is a take on that theme – a poor Russian peasant girl trades places with a girl of privilege on her way to be introduced to the Tsar.
Elena Rudina lives in a dying town where her father lies in an unmarked grave, her mother lies dying of illness and starvation and her brothers taken, one by a rich landlord and the other by the Russian Army. She and the town are starving slowly because there is no food and no one to harvest it if it were growing. Into this impoverished life comes Ekaterina “Cat” de Robichaux, who knows nothing of the constant pang of hunger or of a life without possibility. Through a series of accidents they end up switching places – but not by choice. Elena goes on to meet the Tsar and Cat meets the Russian witch, Baba Yaga and her Dumb Doma, or her house perched on chicken legs. In St Petersburg the two girls are reunited and join Baba Yaga on a journey to find out why the magic has gone out of the world. Through this journey both girls learn life lessons about generosity of spirit, the dangers of neediness and selfishness, and the joy of giving.
I did enjoy this book way more than the previous Maguire book I read (After Alice). It was still kind of fantastical and crazy but toned down for the youth audience it was written for. The author shows his skills here – I could feel the haunting cold and hopelessness Elena felt and was angered along with her when Cat ate only half an apple and threw the rest away and bragged about leaving almost all her food on her plate. What cruel things to say to a starving person standing not 3 feet from you! It was harder to identify with Cat, or feel for her because she was so arrogant and snooty; but the mighty do fall and fall she did. But, as it is a youth book, the fall was only so far!
By combining the rich man/poor man switcharoo scheme with the Baba Yaga folklore, Maguire has written a book that is fun to read and like life, just a little crazy!