“It is all of ours and they are part of me”: The Pearl Thief, growing up, and loss

I’ve been wanting to write about Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief for months now; I read it early and it blew me away. Perhaps not surprisingly, given my deep love for all of Wein’s books, but the particular ways I loved it did surprise me. In fact, it’s a book that meant so much to me that I can’t quite write a proper review of it.

However, I do want to talk about one of the strands that’s really struck with me since I first read The Pearl Thief: the sense of loss and transience that weaves through the emotional heart of the plot. The plot is set in motion after the death of Julie’s grandfather, the Earl of Strathfearn. The estate at Strathfearn, which is almost as much home as Craig Castle, is going to become a school, due to the debts her grandfather left behind. But Julie and her mother and grandmother will have one last summer at Strathfearn, preparing to leave it.

The awareness of change and all the ambivalence Julie feels about it pervades so much of the story. This Julie is not yet the Julie of Code Name Verity, though she is recognizably herself (marvelous and heartbreaking). She’s younger and less assured in many ways, clinging to the past and memories of childhood, while also longing so badly to be grown up.

And yet even this isn’t entirely accurate. She misses the past, she mourns her grandfather and the loss of Strathfearn. But she’s also furious with him for the loss of it. She wants to be seen as grown up (see her meeting with Francis Dunbar, amongst other things). But she also isn’t entirely sure what kind of grown up she wants to be. Both the past and the future feel treacherous.

Summer stories, by their very definition, are almost always about brief moments. Bound on either side by the school year, their end is always implied even at the start. As Julie herself says, “I didn’t want the summer to begin. I didn’t want it to end.” But because they’re less structured, less formally bound, they’re also a chance for surprising things to happen. They can be a time of emotional intensity. (Another great example of this is Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s award-winning graphic novel, This One Summer.)

In this case, the feeling of both beginning and ending is tied to the fact that this is the last summer. I was reminded in some ways of I Capture the Castle while reading The Pearl Thief, because of the shared deep ambivalence about growing up, but also because of the loss or threatened loss of the beloved place.

On the one hand, it’s easy to look at the Murray-Beaufort-Stuart family, or indeed the Mortmains, and wonder why we should care about privileged people losing part of their privilege. On the other hand, that sense of exile, of losing the place that has shaped you just when you need it the most, is something I certainly recognize from my own life. It’s a theme that can resonate deeply with teen readers as they grapple with their own identity.

And indeed, it’s partly through this loss that Julie, the young granddaughter of the Earl of Strathfearn becomes Julie, becomes Queenie. As we see Julie come to terms with her losses, her past, and her future, we see her truly growing up. We see her learn that everything and everyone that’s been part of us is with us always.

(Please note that I took all quotes from an early copy and they may not match the final version exactly!)

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Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall

I actually can’t remember exactly how I ended up with Iris and the Tiger on my to-read bookshelf. I’m not sure, in fact, that I know anyone else who’s read it. And that’s a pity, because it’s a delightful book: a marvelous little surreal fantasy that I enjoyed very much and highly recommend.

Iris Chen-Taylor has been sent by her parents from her home in Australia to her great-aunt’s house in Spain. Sadly, their motives are not pure: they are hoping to convince her aunt to leave Iris her house once and for all. So Iris is supposed to be agreeable and charm Aunt Urusla. But when she arrives at Bosque de Nubes, all her expectations are turned upside down and things take several dramatic turns.

Despite her parents’ machinations, Iris is a sympathetic character, who quickly becomes attached to the house, her aunt, and her new friend Jordi. She’s certainly conflicted, but Hall does a nice job of making her struggle believable while also reassuring young readers that things will probably turn out okay.

I also absolutely loved the descriptions of the house and its environs–Hall really has a gift for showing the magical and conveying Iris’s wonder and the enchanting and terrifying aspects of Basque de Nubes. Although I saw a comp to Elizabeth Goudge’s Little White Horse–and that does make sense–I also thought of Lucy Boston’s Green Knowe series, which I think is slightly closer in the real sense of danger pervading the book.

Finally, I’ll mention that Iris’s dad is from Hong Kong and that Iris deals with some casual racism in very realistic ways (I believe Hall is herself Asian-Australian). It’s nice to see a book with both a wonderful sense of magic and adventure, and a more diverse cast. All in all, this is just a lovely middle grade fantasy/mystery. And now I want to check out Hall’s backlist, as she’s apparently written a couple of YA in Australia!

Book source: public library

Book information: 2016; middle grade fantasy

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Booklist: Marvelous houses of kidlit

After reading Leanne Hall’s lovely Iris and the Tiger, I thought it would be fun to come up with a list of other books featuring great houses–the kind that are so clear and vivid that they seem almost like characters in their own right. Do you have a favorite to add?

Green Knowe from the series by Lucy Boston

Greenglass House from the book by Kate Milford

Howl’s Moving Castle from the series by Diana Wynne Jones

Moonacre Manor from the Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge (all of Elizabeth Goudge’s houses, really!)

Perilous Gard from the book by Elizabeth Marie Pope

The house from Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Castle Hangnail from the book by Ursula Vernon

The House of Dies Drear from the book by Virginia Hamilton

Juniper’s House from Wise Child by Monica Furlong

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Guest post for Women in SF&F Month

I’ve got a guest post up today for a great month-long series at the Fantasy Book Cafe about women in SFF. My post is about what I learned from six favorite authors who formed my sense of the genre. Do check out some of the other posts as well! They’re from a wide range of authors and critics.

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Favorite books from the beginning of 2017

I’ve been reading a lot more than I’ve been writing here, so I thought I’d do a round up of my favorite books from the first quarter of 2017. These are just books I read in January-March.

middle grade

Ratpunzel by Ursula Vernon: Harriet Hamsterbone continues to basically be the best. Mother Goethel here was genuinely creepy (something I feel Rapunzel retellings often fail to pull off). This series really manages to tackle some big, complicated issues in thoughtful and kid-appropriate ways. So good!

Lumberjanes vol. 5: Band Together: FRIENDSHIP TO THE MAX! (someday I will start a Lumberjanes review with something else) (jk, that will never happen) Look, this volume has mermaids, and also lots of confusion about how an underwater mermaid rock band is even possible, and it contains the immortal line, “I don’t want to die confused” so yes.

Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis: This book is just so comforting (much like a cup of chocolate). While this might sound like faint praise, it’s really not–comforting things are really necessary, and books that lie at the crossroads of smart and comforting are harder to pull off than they look. It’s a unique take on dragons, and I loved Aventurine and her determination.

YA

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour: Okay, I will say upfront that the premise of this book is a bit implausible, BUT please accept it and move on because it is full of LaCour’s most mature, rich writing to date and so many feelings. There’s this feeling that’s common to many young adults of being out of place, of not knowing who you are or how exactly to find out. This book is quiet and specific in its characters and setting and it feels so textured and beautiful.

The Hate U Give by A.C. Thomas: Any praise I have here will be slightly superfluous, but oh this book. I wanted to reread it as soon as I finished. It is so amazing on so many levels, but Starr herself really stood out for me. This is a book about her finding her voice, but at the same time, even on the first page she shines.

The Swan Riders by Erin Bow: To be honest, I delayed reading this one at first because even though I trust Bow, I wasn’t sure how anything could follow The Scorpion Rules. But this one did. It starts small and quiet, but the tension and the implications build until it becomes an incredibly heartbreaking exploration of identity and love and what it means to be a person. I love sequels that dig deeper into the world of the first book, and that’s just what this one does.

Chime by Franny Billingsley: I reread this one at the beginning of the year, and it was just what I needed. Learning to tread new brain paths, learning to love and be loved. Living in the tension between the old and the new. This book is just a LOT in all the best possible ways.

Lucy & Linh by Alice Pung: I realized as I was typing this up that Lucy & Linh (aka Laurinda in its native Australia) has a lot in common thematically with We Are Okay: growing up and moving to a new place, complicated friendships, feeling unsure of yourself and who you are. But Lucy also deals with class and privilege and race, which tie back into the theme of identity and friendship in really interesting ways.

adult

The Spy Who Loved by Clare Mulley: I’ve discovered that I love good biographies of complex, difficult women, and this one is a great example. “Christine Granville” and her life make for an incredible, infuriating, and achingly sad story.

A Crown of Bitter Orange by Laura Florand: While I basically just love all of Laura Florand’s books, this one really hit me in a personal place. It’s a quieter story, more intimate, full of the weight of the past–both family history and historical events. It’s about learning to acknowledge that weight without letting it bind you. And, on a lighter note, I really enjoy the setting and descriptions of the countryside as well.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl: I talked about this one quite a lot already, but I’ve found myself thinking about it regularly ever since I read it. The approach to the story is so inventive and thought-provoking, and the sense of what-might-have-been is both inspiring and heartwrenching.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor: Math and magic IN SPACE, and family, and culture, and diplomacy, and explosions, all in one short novella that doesn’t have that frustrating too-short-and-too-long feeling that some novellas do. It just makes me happy whenever I think about it, and I can’t wait to read Home.

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April 2017 releases

A short list this month–and I’m not sure if it’s just a quieter publishing spring, or if I’m missing books, or if I’m maybe just not as interested in some of the big titles. Are there books you’ve been eagerly waiting for that aren’t here?

 

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold

Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer

Given to the Sea by Mandy McGinnis

York by Laura Ruby

Alex and Eliza: A Love Story by Melissa de la Cruz

 

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Links: 3/16/2017

I hope that you all know how much I love I Capture the Castle (spoiler: A LOT), so I found this essay on Cassandra’s hesitant faith and its echoes in Marilynne Robinson to be really intriguing. While I wanted the essay to go a step further in terms of drawing out its arguments & conclusion, it did illuminate a facet of one of my favorite books that I hadn’t considered much before.  (R. has been telling me to read Gilead for ages and I really should do that.)

Ever wondered what happens when Queen Elizabeth II eventually dies? The Guardian found out–and wrote a long, thorough read that looks at the protocol and what it suggests about the nation and its future.

Dr. Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, is TOO MUCH, as are these two adorable children. On a day when the future looks horrifying & uncertain, it’s good to remember what we’re fighting for.

An excellent thread on happy/hopeful endings & the merits of comfort books.

FIYAH Magazine has released the results of a Black SFF Writer Survey. They “encourage readers to view the FIYAH Black SFF Writer Survey Report as a contextualization tool […] attempting to add what is probably the most neglected–and most important–perspective to the conversation: that of black writers themselves.” Diversify publishing on every level, friends.

Tiptree Awarrrrrrddddd AND one of my favorite books from last year (When the Moon Was Ours) won!

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