So! If you liked Harry Potter and also tend to enjoy fantasy and coming-of-age stories, I must suggest that you go and read The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. Really, really marvelous. It’s the story of Quentin, this teenager who just wants to be happy (who doesn’t, really?) and has a nostalgic obsession for a Narnia-like series. He has always believed that living in that world–its called Fillroy–would make him happy.
So imagine his excitement when he happens upon a school of magic. This school is not at all like Hogwarts, and I do like Hogwarts a bit more because I am in love with HP. However, the time Quentin spends at school is only half the book. Like all good fantasy, it creates and sustains a completely different and yet utterly believable world. At school, Q and his friends drink a lot, screw around with magic, have sex, and drink some more. Like all college kids, only with spells. And turning into animals.
And after graduating, Quentin–now in love with fellow magician Alice–slums it in NYC for awhile and then he and a group of magicians find a way into Fillroy. I don’t want to say much more about this because it will ruin it, but again, like all good fantasy, it includes excellent fight scenes, good otherworldly descriptions of monsters, and some really interesting lore. There’s a good twist towards the end. It is also heartbreaking.
But I think the real story here is Q’s realization–slow and incredibly painful–that happiness is not always external, that living in Fillroy, or going to magic school,or even loving someone is just not enough. Watching his struggle to understand that is really fascinating and something I could certainly relate to–to use a total pysch term, its utter magical thinking to believe that something as simple as moving to a new local could make one happy, but don’t we all believe, sometimes, that just a few simple changes will make us happy, when really, what it takes is hard work?
Anyhow. Five stars for The Magicians. A really excellent fantasy and coming of age story for grown-ups.
And speaking of fantasy…
On the drive from MA to Canada I read Michael Chabon. Michael Chabon is a good person to read generally, at any time, but this time I tackled his YA novel Summerland. And my goodness. SO GOOD. Summerland draws together so many myths to tell the story of Ethan Feld, who gets drawn into a different world and must help stop the evil Coyote who is trying, basically, to cause the apocalypse. He gets some help from his friend Jennifer T, his dad is kidnapped which adds some drama, and he hangs out with a whole variety of mythical creatures. The writing her is Chabon, so of course it’s good, but as its a YA novel it is incredibly readable. Chabon does a bit what Rowling does–takes complex storylines and makes them very easy to follow, as long as you pay attention!
Summerland also has loads of baseball. Basically, Ethan has to learn to play to save the world. I don’t love baseball, but I LOVED reading about it. Chabon’s descriptions are so lush. Highly recommend this book for kids and adults. Very, very engaging, and full of fantastic myth.
And speaking of myth…
I finally read The Book Thief, another YA novel. I loved this one too. As a kid I read a ton of WWII stories: I was somewhat obsessed with YA Holocaust books and read a great many. The Book Thief might not beat Numbering the Stars for me, but it is really excellent. The narrator is Death him-or-herself, which is a tricky thing to pull off–but it works. Death observes Liesel, a young girl who is forced into a foster family. Her new foster mother at first appears utterly unsympathetic, but I grew to like her a great deal. Her foster father teaches her to read, starting with a book on grave digging she stole from her brother’s burial. I loved this guy. Loved him.
Anyway, Liesel’s foster family shelters a Jew for awhile, with all the incredible drama that provides. But what is most striking about this book is how natural it feels to have Death narrating, how full engaging Death is as a storyteller. Liesel is a wonderful character and the book is alive with wonderful characters, but the device of using Death as a narrator is perhaps the strongest part of the book. As with all stories about the Holocaust, it is devastating–and maybe that is why using Death as the narrator works so well, because who could talk about the Holocaust better?
Book reviews are fun to do. Expect about 60000 more.