24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Month: November 2017

Abby Reads: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
Bantam Books, 1908, 309 pages*
Fiction

*The edition I read was published by Bantam Books in 1987, but I’ve maintained the original publication date for an indication of style and content.

It is decidedly odd to go about reviewing something so classic and well-known as L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, but because it is part of my 2017 Read Harder challenge, I feel compelled to include it this time Anne of Green Gablesaround. Anne of Green Gables is the canon of my childhood. I grew up watching the Megan Follows adaptation on VHS and, later, DVD. I read the first few books once when I was a teen and recently decided to make another effort to get through the whole series, starting again at the beginning. In short, the first tale of Anne Shirley occurs when she is thirteen and newly sent to Prince Edward Island by mistake to live with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert (siblings, not spouses). As Anne begins to heal from the trauma of being a mistreated orphan, she relies on her imagination and intellect to connect with the people in her community and become a shining star among them.

So many people seem put off by the idea of Anne. They imagine the book as Pollyanna-ish, and they’re not necessarily wrong. However, what makes Anne of Green Gables so timeless is that, while it certainly is hopeful and optimistic, it is also realistic at its heart. The recent Netflix adaptation really brings this to light: though Montgomery may handle it differently, if we really consider Anne’s situation, she is a young girl who is likely suffering from her upbringing severely. Based on the anecdotes she shares with her new family, there’s no doubt Anne was severely abused and, if we consider further, it’s likely her rabid imagination is in fact an escape from or even symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Without modern psychology, Montgomery might not have been aware of the true impact of her work, but the reality is, Anne of Green Gables is a much deeper story than many might think.

Montgomery doesn’t only set Anne up well with a well-defined personality. Anne’s growth over the three years in which Anne of Green Gables takes place is marked. Her evolution is clear, even in its slow movement and focus on character over plot. This coming of age is realistically handled and spurred by events that make sense, showing Montgomery’s attention to detail and dedication to realism despite Anne’s flights of fancy. It’s this striking balance that keeps Anne and her story at the front of modern consciousness. The one break from realism is, perhaps, Rachel Lynde, who has a cartoonish edge. Still, this aura serves Anne’s story in a way that contributes to its realism at the end of the day.

On top of this, Montgomery tells her story with beautiful, descriptive, and imaginative prose. It’s no wonder that so many people venture to Prince Edward Island to see the rolling dunes, secret forests, and authoritative cliffs Montgomery describes. Anne’s environment is so distinctly pictured that there’s no doubt she is anywhere but where Montgomery writes her to be.

The focus on character development and setting does mean a sacrifice in plot. Anne, of course, has a desire: she wants a family and a place to belong. She wants to be loved. This problem is basically solved reasonably early on, leaving Montgomery to track the conflict in Anne’s day-to-day rather than an ongoing issue that might be solved as a plot by the end of the narrative. Literary fiction, or character-driven fiction, is arguably more difficult to achieve in children’s literature. While the concept of children’s literature was only just emerging when Montgomery was writing (and certainly she contributed largely to it), it’s handled reasonably well here. I might not expect a seven-year-old to sit through the entire novel totally enraptured, but each chapter features a sort of anecdote of Anne’s life, making the novel a great option for bedtime reading that satisfies while teasing enough to encourage reading the next night. “What scrape will Anne get herself into next?” readers will want to know.

If that Anne of Green Gables is an easy-to-read, if slightly slow-paced classic is not enough temptation for you to read it, I can also tell you it is humorous and soothing, reminding us often of the best parts of humanity and childhood, even as Anne suffers from a sort of lack of childhood. Anne will surprise you in quiet ways and loud ways. The caveat, of course, is that Anne is a work of its time and there are moments that make its historical context evident. Perhaps due in part to the location, racial diversity is essentially nonexistent, though the themes are certainly universal.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #9, “Read a book you’ve read before,” and I leave it behind with four-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1962, 211 pages
Juvenile Fantasy

It’s been years since twelve-year-old Meg Murry saw her father who is on a mission assigned by the United States government in Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time. Though she knows it involves something called a tesseract, Meg’s understanding of what her father is doing ends about there. 18131When her brother Charles Wallace meets the enigmatic Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who, the witchy women send Meg, Charles, and Meg’s schoolmate Calvin on a journey to find and free Charles and Meg’s father, but there are dangers in other worlds they have not even begun to imagine.

Reading this at twenty-five was an exercise of the mind. Now that I’m working as a children’s librarian, I’ve felt nostalgic about my own elementary school years. I first read A Wrinkle in Time in an advanced English class in fifth grade. At the time, I recall understanding this novel on a far deeper level than I did this time and I’ve been unable to recreate what it was I understood then that I don’t now. I don’t believe this is a failing of the book however — rather, I think it takes an incredibly talented author to pull this off.

A bit chaotic and with a staccato pace, A Wrinkle in Time still stands up as something unique and wonderful. Despite the reaching Meg and her companions do across the universes, it never seems unnatural that they’d be doing so without adult supervision. And when adult supervision does arrive in the form of Mr. Murry, he’s utterly useless. L’Engle breaks a truth to kids here that often goes ignored until adulthood and sometimes even beyond: parents are not infallible, nor are they all-knowing.

L’Engle is funny in moments, bestowing the name of “Happy Medium” on a fortune teller and weaving humor into situations that are trying for the young characters. L’Engle’s focus is always on the children, too — even when in a nearly bodice-ripping moment, Calvin kisses Meg, readers are not at all apprised of Mr. Murry’s reaction, though he is standing nearby. Given that the last time he saw Meg was when she was only seven or eight years old, this event must be at least a little shocking to him and L’Engle does not divulge it.

What’s special about A Wrinkle in Time is its ability to describe complex concepts of physics in such a way that make sense to both children and adults. The title itself is one such example, as the children learn their travel through space is aided by a ripple that allows them to skip from point A to point C without traveling through point B. It is only when you truly understand a concept that you can describe it so simply, and L’Engle shows her ability here with great strength.

Another achievement of A Wrinkle in Time is Meg’s revolutionary character. As a young girl in the early 1960s, Meg is interested in math and science — this is so much unlike the majority of the literature at the time and, even, today, done to the extent and with such realism as Meg is, that readers can’t help but cheer for her, even when she is churlish and brusque.

You may not be able to appreciate A Wrinkle in Time the same way as an adult as you did as a child. But the merit is still there. Give this novel another look before the film comes out and you might find something in yourself you didn’t know was there to begin with.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Show Off: Books to Make You LOL

I love using obscure “holidays” to pick a book display theme. When I found out March 19th was National Let’s Laugh Day, I had just the thing for it: humorous young adult materials for the month’s display. I admit, I’m usually not one to pick up well on humor in writing (in senior AP English, Candide‘s humor went way over my head). But it was easy enough to pull out a few books thanks to the organization of the library catalog.

Like in past displays, I used simple, printed bookmarks to remind anyone looking at the display that books on display can be checked out.

Different kinds of humor were incorporated in the selection of books. I’m a big fan of the very smart and biting humor of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart and the sometimes-sad, but super honest humor of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

The library’s OverDrive collection also had a humor section, which allowed me to direct those who were interested to similar digital titles via the display explanation sign. It was super fun to incorporate a well-beloved emoji into the display, too (I know it’s probably one of the ones I use most frequently).

What are some books that tickle your funny bone?

Abby Reads: The Beast Is an Animal by Peternelle Van Arsdale

The Beast Is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017, 352 pages
Fantasy

With a dark and witchy feel akin to the Salem Witch Trials, The Beast Is an Animal is a debut novel by Peternelle van Arsdale (and what a name — both the title and author!). I first heard of the YA fantasy in an episode of Book Riot’s All the Books with Liberty Hardy and Rebecca Schinsky and it sounded amazing. After two sisters and their mother are banished from a town for suspicion of witchcraft, the town feels the effects. Years later, seven-year-old Alys is found wandering in the fields by a traveler. When he returns her to her home, he finds her parents — along with all townsfolk over the age of fifteen — have perished. Alys and her young townmates are adopted by families in a nearby town, but the suspicion grows over the newcomers and Alys, especially. While Alys resists the pull of the two sisters who have found their way into her life, she must reconcile her murderous feelings with her love for her adoptive family.

The Beast Is an Animal begins with a fascinating and atmospheric concept, but it’s an atmosphere that just can’t be sustained for hundreds of pages — at least, not the way van Arsdale tells it. Alys spends a good portion (nearly half) of the book as a child and, consequently, her thoughts and understanding of the world around her are limited by experience and knowledge. Though there is so much potential to dive into various ideas about human nature and cruelty, van Arsdale can barely scratch the surface with her young character. Even as Alys ages, something about her lack of exposure to the world outside her village seems to limit her ability to consider the deeper implications of her actions and the actions of those around her.

Van Arsdale is, perhaps, just being subtle. There are moments in the novel that reach a deeper understanding and payoffs here and there. These often come in the form of meticulous prose. As a book editor by trade, van Arsdale’s strength is very obviously in the language, which is fairly consistently beautiful, interesting, and haunting. Her prose, however, cannot carry the basic lack of plot alone. Though Alys clearly has a predicament, what she really wants is unclear throughout the novel. A last-minute love interest seems to be a thing of plot convenience and motivation more than something natural, and Alys hardly has enough personality to warrant a realistic relationship.

Alys isn’t alone in having little personality. Few characters in the book do, the primary of which being Pawl, who discovers her as a young girl wandering in the fields. It is later in the novel, especially, that he and his wife feature in an especially poignant way, driven by their taste for alcohol and drunkenness. This particular trait makes Pawl one of the most interesting characters as it is so at odds with his cheery personality. Not many characters qualify as prime players — instead, a blurry mish-mash of villagers make up the antagonistic forces in Alys’s life, along with the sisters and the beast itself, who, while a fascinating idea, is not well developed and instead rather superficial and without much impact.

Ultimately, van Arsdale has something here, both in concept and in ability to write. The Beast Is an Animal falls short with a plot that doesn’t stand strong in its structure nor urges readers forward with momentum, purpose, or stakes. My expectations for The Beast Is an Animal — and I still can’t get over that striking title — were, admittedly, high. This might be better read around Halloween and might even make a fascinating class assignment alongside The Crucible or A Break with Charity. Fans of All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry might find similar elements in The Beast Is an Animal and enjoy it, to an extent, but van Arsdale’s first attempt is not quite a hit.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Some of the Parts by Hannah Barnaby

Some of the Parts by Hannah Barnaby
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016, 304 pages
Realistic Fiction

In Some of the Parts, younger sister Tallie has only just begun grieving the death of her older brother. Wracked with guilt from being the driver of the car in which he was in at the time of his death, Tallie has not only lost her brother, but lost her parents to their own grief and her good friend who had just started a relationship with her brother at the time of his death. As she gets to know the new boy in school, Chase, Tallie must confront her own grief and begin to function again or she risks losing more. But it’s harder to let go when she discovers her brother might not be as gone as she thought. Hannah Barnaby paints a painfully realistic picture of a girl who has lost her brother at an age that is too young to experience such pain, but too old to not understand it.

I sought out Hannah Barnaby at an event in Arlington in September 2016, just a few weeks after my own brother died in a car crash. After the talk she gave with another author, I rushed up to her and told her my own story and that I had written a similar story in college, never knowing what was in my future. Barnaby graciously signed the copy I bought from her and later got in touch with me on Twitter to check in with me. I wasn’t able to actually read the book for another seven months, but when I did, I was amazed.

Barnaby so acutely describes what has been my experience around grief and sibling loss. Although my brother was not an organ donor and I did not cause his death, Tallie and I have much else in common in how we handle or don’t handle our grief. The accuracy Barnaby pins the story with can be painful in spots, particularly for those who have been there, but is a rare and excellent thing to encounter, especially for those who are trying to understand and empathize with a character or individual who has had such an experience.

Beyond the specific concept of sibling grief, Barnaby handles the other aspects of the lives of her characters with striking realism. This helps ground the overall plot from being pure emotion and chaos, but can sometimes make following relationships a challenge. Tallie, of course, has school friends and acquaintances, all of which are affected by her grief and potentially their own grief over the loss of their friend. Because it’s unclear how big a part any one character will play at any given time (something that also increases the realism), it’s hard to tell which characters deserve the most attention. A naturally flowing timeline adds to the realism, as does  a commitment to providing an ending that is not overly kitschy or predictable.

As a character and narrator, Tallie leans toward the mature with an adult lilt and a willingness to use SAT words in the everyday situation. She’s observant and often self-aware, though not always in the ways she needs to be. Tallie was a person before this event which tore apart her life, and glimpses of that person make her a fascinating character who is affected by her grief but who is not, necessarily, her grief itself. On the flip side, Barnaby shows grief acting in different ways with different people. Not one of the affected characters respond in the same way, and even when they do, it is often for different reasons. Barnaby has a great grasp on each of her characters, making Some of the Parts all the more enjoyable and important.

The story is somewhat too neat by the end, with a suggestion that now that Tallie has gotten over the hump of her grief, she will return to a normal and happy life. The reality is, Tallie will likely return to her grief which will appear in different shapes throughout her life. While that might be too realistic and too grim, I was disappointed to see it left out (at least from my perspective).

Ultimately, I’m so grateful for Some of the Parts. It articulated much of my early months of grief in a way that I could not at the time and can’t now, because the form of my own grief has changed so much. This could not have been an easy book to write and despite this, Barnaby did not make sacrifices in quality just to tell an important story. It’s well-rounded in nearly every way and a great story for those who have not lost a sibling as much as it is for those who have.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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