Monday, January 28, 2013

Prodigy, by Marie Lu: LEGEN–wait for it–DARY

Read Legend before you read this, or be spoiled like milk.

Prodigy's 370 pages cover the Republic, the Patriots, and the Colonies–the heights and depths of romance–utopia flipped on its head. It operates in contrasts that verify each other. Day and June both, in certain ways, become their reverses.

By DeviantArtist Patsie. 
June comes to shine as much as Day. By the end, I adored her. When Legend left us, she had just betrayed the Republic and escaped with Day to join the Patriots. I don't know if I've ever seen a story so earnestly acknowledge how difficult/confusing/frustrating it would be for a comfortable, respected soldier, who has fought for a community all along, to disavow allegiance. 

The ending is unpredictable and epic. A certain speech involves much sprezzatura. Day becomes even more of a spine-chilling character for his mono no aware (Very slight spoiler, so if you don't want to know, don't look it up.)

Marie Lu's own sketch of Day

These characters give something to aspire to. They are role models without being ideal. What manages to ground these fantastical characters and their inspiring story?

  1. Technical text, in the form of date/place headings, news headlines, labels, profiles, etc. - An example from Legend (page 1):

    FILE NO: 462178-3233 "DAY"
    PROPERTY . . . 
  2. Constant death and grief - June never stops thinking about Metias. In the same way that we come to treasure and glorify memories of loved ones, he becomes almost divine. This is such a human example of how a character can become something so much more, so beyond themselves.
  3. June's logical maneuvering and analysis An example from Legend: "I study her stance. She steps forward with her right foot. She's left-handed. Usually this would work to her advantage and throw of her opponents, but I've trained for this" (105).
  4. The alternating points-of-view, forever verifying each other.
  5. So much more I haven't thought of yet.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Storytelling of Legend by Marie Lu: Sprezzatura

Day is a young vigilante. June is a prodigy. The governments sics June on Day, and uses her prodigious schematics to find him. Character development and story plot are nigh inseparable. *throws party*

Legend was utterly addictive, and I flew through it (and its sequel), in part because of its dual points-of-view. Every single chapter alternates. All of Day’s chapters make you wonder what June is thinking. All of June’s chapters demand updates from Day. 

This analogy is reductive, and possibly just unfair, but it brought to mind Artemis Fowl versus Katniss. With genders swapped. 

But most-wanted prettyboy Day is compelling for his pure coolness. 

The Japanese cover of Legend

He's the character at the top, with the blond hair. (That's a red stripe in it.) He has a good measure of sprezzatura, a fancy term I just learned meaning a sense of “coolness,” or “effortlessness” that English does not quite capture.

Castiglione explains sprezzatura here.

Anime reviewer Gigguk explains it here.

2. Two world-building tricks stand out. 

The integration of the world’s terminology is seamless and simple. This particular future is easy to jump into. Jumbo Tron flashes ads and videos and announcements. Things cost Notes. High school starts when you're 10. Got it. 

Also, Legend's world happens to be structured in a way that lends itself to exploration. We discover it as the characters discover it. It's so strictly socially stratified by class, June illuminates Day's world when she infiltrates it. "I can't believe how filthy the streets are." "No rules? So be it." 

Day illuminates June's world as he infiltrates hers. "Electric lights shine from each floor--a luxury only government buildings and the elite's homes can afford."

3. Slick societal criticism never goes to waste. The Trial is a demented test that irrevocably determines citizens’ life paths. The SATs on STDs, if you will.

4. Last but leaving lasting impressions: With only a few words--a short phrase or a clause--Marie Lu can change a characters’ entire worldview and carry the plot in another direction. 

"My knife hits him hard in the shoulder..." 

"They always work. Don't you find it strange...?" 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Team Will or Team Jem? The Love Triangle of Clockwork Angel & Prince

(Nothing to do with Clare. Just epic.)

Love triangles often make me sick. There’s usually an obvious winner, they detract from more powerful facets of plot, and they turn our heroine into a wishy-washy cheater. (Bella, Katniss.) There are worlds of character flaws that interest me more than do indecisiveness and unfaithfulness. 

But I like the love triangle between Tessa, Will, and Jem. 

Spoiler alert, but come on - It’s obvious from the get-go of Angel that Jem is dying. Here I find a compelling moral ambiguity. Is it better to humor your second choice if you’re his first, until he dies - or should honesty and loyalty prevail? Jem is vivid and effervescent and loving. Pitiful and deserving. Will is hilarious and hot and mysterious and long-suffering and secretly nerdy. Picking a favorite is hard. But in the end, perhaps...

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Storytelling of The Wisdom of Hair: And The Power Of It, Too

A pink-bound story of a 1983 Southern woman with childhood of loss and neglect, who attends beauty school because she just wants her life to be beautiful, runs some risk of appearing quaint, in the silly-frilly-negligible sense. Cover praise describes it as “lovely” (Wendy Wax) with a “big, beating heart.” Ann Napolitano continues, “It’s hard to write a book about (mostly) nice people, but Kim Boykin has pulled it off.” I agree with all of this, and I’d like to elaborate, because The Wisdom of Hair is no doily.

Kim Boykin gracefully weaves through the characters' battles withchild abuse, postpartum depression, unexpected pregnancy, sex addiction, drug addiction, widowhood and grief, unrequited love, racism, and alcoholism galore. The nature of its Ever After is imperfectly and unconventionally Happy. It left me with aftershocks for days later.

The ever-vacillating love story defies formula and explores the depths of grief and guilt. An enormous, morally ambiguous opponent -- Zora’s mother -- touches her every decision. She fights for the approval of wicked older women. She attends beauty school; her mother was a Judy Garland impersonator. She falls in love, but is he her mother’s type?  

Beauty does not come hand in hand with shallowness, and I have never read a book that so clearly explained why. Her mother finds inspiration in the beauty of Judy Garland. Zora finds redemption in the respect of the customers she beautifies. Textual elaboration to come.

A quick, powerful conclusion and poignantly tied ends leaves me hungering for more of this story, but I’ll have to settle for Boykin’s next work. 

The Wisdom of Hair comes out on March 3.