September 06, 2007


Hauntings and Other Tales of Danger, Love, and Sometimes Loss. By Betsy Hearne. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $15.99.

Miki Falls 2: Summer. By Mark Crilley. HarperTeen. $7.99.

      The “Danger, Love, and Sometimes Loss” subtitle of Hauntings describes the underlying theme of Miki Falls equally well. Both of these books are about the trials and tribulations of love, the uncertainties that surround it, and the special difficulties of love – and even simple affection – between people (and not-people) who inhabit very different worlds.

      The short stories in Hauntings are grouped into tales of the past, mostly from Ireland; tales of the present, mostly from the United States; and tales set mostly in Heaven and Hell. Betsy Hearne occasionally achieves the drama of legend in her tellings, as in “Tryst,” a cleverly structured story of a female highway robber and the man she loves. In “Nurse’s Fee,” Hearne turns the legend of the selkie (seal in water, human on land) into a story of interspecies cooperation and, perhaps, love. “The Crossing” is about lovers kept apart by class and parentage, with a tragic ending that includes a crossing of another kind – from Ireland to the United States. These are among Hearne’s better tales. But she goes astray when she tries too hard to write a “message” story, such as “Angel,” in which a self-proclaimed “bad girl” is quickly transformed into an obedient conformist after agreeing, under duress, to sing in a church choir. The longest story here, “Secret Trees,” changes tone midway through after the narrator, Ches, finds out that a grove of trees is nothing like what he originally thought it was; and the tale never quite regains its balance. One thing that is missing in all the stories, except the final two, is a touch of humor. Hearne’s earnestness becomes grating after a while – although of course there is no need to read this collection straight through. In the penultimate story, a rather endearing and fumbling (female) God manages to answer one boy’s prayer with the help of a Chihuahua; and in the last tale, the Devil encounters unexpected resistance from a very different sort of dog. It’s better for readers ages 10-14 to take Hearne’s emotive stories one or two at a time, rather than reading Hauntings from beginning to end.

      The Miki Falls books are meant to be read from start to finish, being fast-paced graphic novels. But they too are emotive. The second in Mark Crilley’s four-part series on Miki, for ages 12 and up, finds the high-school heroine deeply involved in the work of a Deliverer named Hiro. Deliverers look human but are actually agents of some unexplained higher power, charged with moving about the finite quantity of love in the world: when some people fall out of love, their love must be harvested and moved elsewhere so the quantity does not diminish. The absurdity of the premise means it is best to focus on the people-from-two-worlds elements of the story, which is in fact where Crilley focuses in Summer. Here, Miki finds out that a gorgeous female Deliverer named Reika is involved with Hiro, and Reika makes it clear that mere humans cannot hope to love and be loved by Deliverers – so Miki tearfully breaks off her budding relationship with Hiro. But their mutual attraction proves too hard for either to resist, and by the end of this midway point of Crilley’s manga series, they have accepted how they feel about each other – no matter what the rules dictate. This is an extremely conventional plot framework, but Crilley keeps it interesting through his interpretations of manga conventions, whether showing Miki’s long-legged but innocent budding womanhood or Reisha’s stunning, more provocative appearance. Summer is light fare, despite the attempt to hang the narrative on a greater theme of the limits of love, but it is well written and interestingly drawn.

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