SMALL PRINT: DEIRDRE BAKER

Waterloo Region Record - - Books -

The As­sas­si­na­tion of Brang­wain Spurge, by M.T. An­der­son and Eu­gene Yelchin, Can­dlewick, 544 pages, $29.99, ages 10-14

M.T. An­der­son is a weird, won­der­ful lit­er­ary in­no­va­tor; here he teams up with the pe­cu­liar ge­nius of il­lus­tra­tor Yelchin in a work that’s part prose, part graphic novel. Scholar elf Brang­wain Spurge ex­pects noth­ing but bar­bar­ity when he’s sent to de­liver a gift to, and spy on, the gob­lin king­dom. As for Wer­fel, Spurge’s gob­lin host, he wants noth­ing more than to show Spurge the best of gob­lin cul­ture — and to re­port back on any ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties. When Spurge’s be­hav­iour arouses the goblins’ wrath, Wer­fel does what any gen­er­ous host should do — smug­gles him out of the city. As the two schol­ars “dash hec­ti­cally across the land” flee­ing as­saults from both king­doms, they ar­rive at quite a dif­fer­ent un­der­stand­ing of their re­spec­tive cul­tures. This tale takes on the sim­plis­tic op­po­si­tions of epic fan­tasy, play­fully ex­am­in­ing the kinds of as­sump­tions that prevent elves and goblins (and peo­ple) from rec­og­niz­ing what they share — and just how lit­tle the au­thor­i­ties are to be trusted. Sharp po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary, as­tute in­sight into char­ac­ter, prose so lu­cid it could be oth­er­worldly — a must for all ad­ven­tur­ous read­ers.

Love to Ev­ery­one, by Hi­lary McKay, McElderry Books, 328 pages, $23.99, ages 9-14

McKay’s well-known for her wise, funny fam­ily sto­ries, but this is her first foray into his­tor­i­cal fic­tion — and what a sat­is­fy­ing foray it is. Clarry, her brother Peter and charis­matic cousin Rupert have al­ways been good friends, spend­ing pre­cious sum­mers to­gether with grand­par­ents in Corn­wall. But they’re grow­ing up in the dark­en­ing shadow of the First World War: Rupert en­lists, Peter’s sent to board­ing school, and Clarry is left at home with her ne­glect­ful fa­ther, barely man­ag­ing to get his con­sent to at­tend the lo­cal gram­mar school. Then Rupert is re­ported miss­ing, “pre­sumed dead,” and Clarry sets off to find him. This is a story both broad and deep, sketch­ing the scope of the “rav­en­ous, ex­pec­tant smile” of the West­ern Front, but evok­ing poignantly and pre­cisely the char­ac­ter of warm-hearted, clever Clarry, along with the hurly­burly of wartime and the strange, new op­por­tu­ni­ties it of­fers. McKay’s quick, po­etic prose, her ex­plo­ration of fam­ily love, friend­ship, and the growth of mind and spirit, make this out­stand­ing.

The House of One Thou­sand Eyes, by Michelle Barker, An­nick, 340 pages, $19.95, ages 14 and up

This com­pul­sive page-turner takes us into the heart of East Ber­lin in the 1980s, where 17-year-old Lena lives with her stern, de­vot­edly Com­mu­nist aunt, and works as a night jan­i­tor at Stasi head­quar­ters. Ever since her ner­vous break­down when her par­ents were killed in an “in­ci­dent,” Lena has thought of her­self as “sim­ple.” But she’s not so sim­ple that she doesn’t know some­thing’s wrong when her beloved un­cle, a writer, dis­ap­pears — along with all record of his ex­is­tence. Sus­pense is high as Lena strug­gles to learn her un­cle’s fate, dis­cern­ing who is to be trusted; who is not, and en­dur­ing the abu­sive sex­ual pre­da­tion of a Stasi of­fi­cial. Barker knows the art of mak­ing ev­ery sen­tence count, from Lena’s plea­sure at “sand­wiches with but­ter!” to the eerily vi­o­lent im­age of pho­to­graphs de­faced with pink­ing shears that leave “zigzag pat­terns, like teeth.” The story has the propul­sion of a thriller, but Barker’s ob­ser­vant, po­etic lan­guage gives it a deep, dark tex­ture, of­fer­ing layer upon layer of his­tor­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal rich­ness.

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