20 December 2010

When the Dark comes rising... YoRY Part 2

I told you how I began rereading The Dark is Rising Sequence about a year ago. Well, with Solstice (and the setting for book two) nearly upon us, I figured I'd expound a bit more. Not that I sat down and read all five books in a row; I read other stuff in between and didn't finish rereading book five, Silver on the Tree, until August or so. But let's stick to Susan Cooper for the moment. Two of the five books in the sequence are Newbery Award winners, which says a great deal about their quality. And that's not my opinion, that's fact. You don't win a Newbery without damned good reason, and The Dark is Rising (book 2) and The Grey King (book 4) have damned good reason. If you don't know what a Newbery Award is, well, I'm very sorry to hear it. Click this link to be taken to ALA's page of Newbery goodness. You might find you've read something on the list and didn't even realize it. I mean, it has been awarded since 1922, so chances are good. I read two other winners over the course of this year, including last year's mystery category winner, but I'll get to those another day.

I'm still pondering on the brilliance of Susan Cooper's YA twist on King Arthur's story. Although, that's not really accurate on my part. It's not about Arthur, per se, but about the mythology, truth, and artifacts related to Britain's greatest king. (Yes, I believe he was real. And I believe that, barring intervention from Doctor Who and his TARDIS, we'll never know how much of the story that's been passed is fact and how much fiction. Except Lancelot. He's pure French fiction.) It's the consequences of Arthur's actions in his own time, and how they affect things and, more importantly, people in the present day of the books that are the action of the story. More than even that, it's about the greatest and last battle of the Light against the Dark. Great battles have been fought over the millennia, but this one is for all the marbles, as the saying goes. There are difficult choices facing the adults and even more facing the children who are our heroes throughout the sequence. Children and adults alike are fallible and human; even those who are more than human make mistakes and must face the consequences. I think this has to have had a profound influence on me as a kid that persists to this day: I don't believe in easy wins for fictional characters. If there is no sacrifice, it cheapens the gains. You know what I mean? I'm all for a happily ever after (HEA), but I don't want it to be too easy and I don't want it to be a guarantee. And, really, I don't have to have an HEA as long as the ending is the right one for the story. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, for example, is a book with hard choices and sacrifices, and while it doesn't exactly have a happy ending, it has the right ending. I love that book. I should reread it more often. It's not like it takes very long.

Do you prefer your books to have a guaranteed HEA, or are you content with the right ending, whether it's happy or not?

15 December 2010

2010 - My Year of Reading Youthfully, Part 1

About this time last year, I began to reread one of my all-time favourite book series, or, more accurately in this case, my favourite book sequence. And if that doesn't give it away, I will: Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising Sequence. Don't ask me why it's a "sequence" and not a "series"; I do not know. Nor do I care. The point is, these are some of the best books ever written, and the fact that they are YA books makes that all the more impressive. Okay. So. My point? My point:

I began with the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone, shortly before Winter Solstice so that when the Solstice arrived I could be on Book 2, The Dark is Rising, which takes place over about one week starting on Solstice Eve. And thus began my Year of Reading Youthfully. I was burnt out on "grown-up" books. They were too long, the print too small, too poorly written, too depressing, and basically just too damned tedious. YA, on the other hand, offered solace. They are generally quick reads (I did not reread the Harry Potter series this year.), with relatively large print, heavy but not too heavy subject matter, and always well-written (I chose well.) It helps that I'm in a book club specifically for YA literature. I don't feel I need an excuse to read kids' books, but some adults can be, shall we say, shy about their chosen reading material, and so the book club was an excuse for them to read YA books.

For those of you who haven't read The Dark is Rising Sequence... What is wrong with you!? Okay, okay. Just kidding. ... Sort of. It's a fantastical retelling of Arthurian legend that ranges across the English and Welsh countrysides. From the Holy Grail to Arthur's Seat, three ordinary kids and two quite extraordinary ones must battle the Dark, on the side of the Light, to do nothing less than save the world from eternal evil. ... Yes. These are kids' books, and they are brilliant. I first read them in elementary school, and have reread them several times over the years. They never lose anything in the retelling, and indeed, gain much as I get older and my life experience changes. These books taught me that there is always something worth fighting for, and you have to fight for it when you recognize it, even though, win or lose, that fight will come with a price.

TheLostLand.com - Official Susan Cooper Website that I discovered just this minute. (Hey, gimme a break! The first time I read any of her books, there was no internet, so why would I go looking for this until I wanted to share with you?)

I'll be posting more in the weeks to come about the other YA books I've read over the past year. Check back and see what I think about NZ kids' lit, YA GLBTQ, and old-fashioned modern-written fairy tales!

Got a favourite kids' or YA book you would recommend? Let me know!