August 09, 2007


Wicked Lovely. By Melissa Marr. HarperTeen. $16.99.

Billy Creekmore. By Tracey Porter. Joanna Cotler/HarperCollins. $16.99.

      The land of faerie offers riches and pleasures unmeasured and untold, but at what cost? The protagonists of these books find themselves pushed and pulled between their everyday world and another one that may be better, may be worse, or may simply be different. The pushing and pulling are especially clear in Wicked Lovely, for ages 12 and up – because Melissa Marr’s debut novel makes the allure and danger of faerie central to her story. That land and its inhabitants are a particular concern to Aislinn, the book’s heroine, because she, like her grandmother before her, has the Sight: she perceives the faeries who live among humans, even though most people cannot see these beings at all. Aislinn attempts to follow the basic rules of human-faerie interaction, or lack of interaction, by neither staring at nor speaking to the faeries who seem to be stalking her, and by trying not to attract their attention. But she has attracted it, in particular the attention of one named Keenan, who is the Summer King and has decided that Aislinn should become the Queen for whom he has searched for nigh unto a thousand years. Aislinn has other plans – mostly involving her friends, especially her best boy friend (but not yet boyfriend), Seth – but there is attraction as well as turmoil in becoming involved with faeries, and Aislinn soon finds that she does not know which way to turn. As her relationship with Seth deepens, she tells him, “I want to be here, with you, go to college. I don’t know what I want to be, but it’s not a faery. Definitely not a faery queen. I am, though; I know it. I just don’t know what to do now.” Telling this modern-but-old story through chapters introduced by faerie-related writing from the 19th and early 20th centuries, Marr makes readers feel the plight of a young girl trapped between two worlds – although she never makes the faerie world as frightening as it is supposed to be, or the real one as attractive. The eventual resolution is a trifle too pat – Aislinn gets to have things both ways – but the sense of wonder remains to the end.

      The otherworldliness of Billy Creekmore is of a different sort. The title character in this tale of great expectations is born at midnight on Friday, December 13, and is widely considered unlucky by the people of turn-of-the-20th-century West Virginia. But Billy has gifts, including the gift of storytelling (the book is written in the first person), and his special abilities help carry him from an orphanage into the wider world. He is not really an orphan – his father is out there somewhere, sending him postcards periodically so Billy will not forget him. But Billy is certainly on his own, and through such chapters as “A Figure from My Past Pays a Visit, and I Learn More about My Mysterious Beginnings,” he gradually pieces together information on his family and background. He also learns that he need not end up as a child laborer in the mines of his home state, and certainly need not accept the inhumane conditions there: He joins the United Mine Workers, is involved in a battle with mine owners’ guards, flees town to search for his father, and joins the Charles Sparks Circus. But Billy’s father, when Billy eventually finds him, turns out to be far less than the boy hoped he would be, and Billy eventually learns to fend for himself – and heads back home. Intended for ages 10 and up and clearly modeled on the novels of Dickens, Billy Creekmore will be too preachy for many young readers and too melodramatic for others (but then, so is Dickens). Billy has pluck, and Tracey Porter’s mining-town settings have the feeling of reality that comes from an author’s careful research, but Billy finally seems more a manipulated type – manipulated as much by the author as by other characters in the book. Readers who find him instantly likable will enjoy this novel. But those who do not warm to Billy from the beginning will find little to make him more appealing later.

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