Friday, April 11, 2014

Ungrateful children

YA books (which generally means middle school and teen) are really big right now.  Some are being made into movies (not always with success, however) and even though many adults (like myself) have always preferred them, more are reading them with less embarrassment.  (For the record, I still feel self-conscious if I'm reading one in public, however.)  But a lot of YA books fall into a couple of categories: paranormal (vampires, werewolves, fairies, and even mermaids) and dystopia (futuristic-ish, but with society falling apart like The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.).  We've definitely seen too many paranormal stories*, but now some readers are wondering if dystopia has run its course and maybe there aren't any fresh ideas anymore.  The 'world-building,' after all, tends to sound alike at a certain point.  But what if the world was limited to one home?  There are challenges with such a limited setting, but it can be pulled off quite well if the author is talented (if you've ever seen Hitchcock's Lifeboat you might understand).  At any rate, that's the premise behind Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee (which I received from Amazon Vine).

The winter is getting colder and 12 year-old Merciful Truth's mama just died after a long illness. Her 15 year-old brother, Gospel, says that they can't bury her because the ground is frozen. The minister tells them it's not right to leave the dead unburied and castigates them for being ungrateful children to the mother than birthed them - but he's just a cat. And as the storm worsens and the world outside shrinks they can't possibly dig a hole, so they put her under the kitchen table. But then Merciful hears the lullaby her mother used to sing to her before the sickness got too bad... and it's coming from under the kitchen table.

This is an incredibly creepy story with a very twisted world - and I'm still mystified by the minister. Vanhee tells the story with cleverness in the voice of Merciful, with - I think - an Appalachian dialect and feeling, and I found it nearly impossible to put down, finishing the last couple hundred pages in an evening. However, not being able to put down a book might make it "compelling," but doesn't necessarily mean it's an enjoyable read. It's a bleak and lonely world, and although Vanhee skillfully wrings every last drop out of a small and limited setting and brings characters to life (in more ways than one!) with amazing "voice," I just found myself reading to finish and be done with it. It's certainly a well-crafted story and I "liked" it, but I wanted to like it more than I did. Still, if you want a really creepy "end-of-the-world" tale and don't mind a stiff dose of darkness, you might find yourself clinging to this one right to the last page.

*Incidentally, some are speculating that "ghost stories" may become the "next big thing," which is what my novel turned out to be - and I hope so.  I'll post a ghost story next week.

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