February 20, 2014
(+++) TEEN TRIALS AND TRAUMAS
Fates. By Lanie Bross. Delacorte Press. $17.99.
The Glass Casket. By McCormick Templeman. Delacorte Press. $17.99.
Pieces of Me. By Amber Kizer. Delacorte Press. $16.99.
There are many predictable elements in novels intended for teenagers, including lots of soul-searching, difficult choices that must be made, romance and more. Many such novels nowadays also throw in something of the paranormal or supernatural. Then it is just a matter of arranging the elements within a reasonably coherent plot structure and moving matters along at a speedy enough pace to keep readers interested. These three new Delacorte Press books all follow the formula carefully; how teen readers respond to them will depend on just how they like their story elements mixed. Fates, the first novel by Lanie Bross, is the first part of a planned two-book series about a capital-F Fate named Corinthe who has been exiled from her home in Pyralis Terra to Humana, the human world, where she is required, as penance for the curiosity-driven misdeed that got her banished, to ensure that people’s small-f fates develop as they are supposed to. (For some reason, Executors are necessary to guarantee that this happens in cases of “the clouded marbles, the damaged ones”; Corinthe is an Executor.) Corinthe has been motivated for years by a desire to finish her penance and return home. She is given a final assignment and told that she can return home if she completes it – but alas, it involves killing a human boy named Luc, for whom Corinthe develops decidedly un-Fate-ful (but obviously “fated”) feelings. All this occurs against a background of political machinations among the beings of Pyralis Terra, and not surprisingly, Corinthe is far more important to the maneuverings than she realizes – even though she herself is not directly involved in them. On the other hand, her decisions may be “fated” to be more consequential than she knows. Unsurprisingly, Luc finds out what Corinthe is, or at least that she is not human despite her appearance; and it turns out that the two need each other for purposes of different but related quests. The book tosses out questions that are intended to seem profound but come across as rather sophomoric: “Could there be choice in a universe so large? But if everyone had choice, who would maintain the balance?” And it becomes clear that Luc and Corinthe have some major universe-saving to do in a location called Kinesthesia: “This place was the pulse of the universe, keeping everything outside it regulated and connected, and it was falling apart. All the worlds were intertwined, feeding off each other to keep balance in all. Corinthe shuddered to think of the consequences that would ripple outward because of this.” All this is, considered logically, quite ridiculous, but it is not supposed to come off as silly; and the inevitable sacrifice that occurs at the book’s climax is intended both to make the whole plot seem fraught and serious and to set the scene for the followup book. It certainly counts as an effective cliffhanger.
The Glass Casket, the second teen-oriented book by McCormick Templeman (after The Little Woods), also sounds as if it should have mythic resonance: the title produces images of Snow White being put on display until she can be appropriately revived. Indeed, The Glass Casket straddles some of the lines between life and death and does share some sensibilities with the Grimms’ often-grim stories. Its protagonist is Rowan Rose (a name filled with fairy-tale significance), who lives in a once-calm village called Nag’s End, near which five of the kings’ soldiers have died mysteriously and brutally, shortly after riding through town. Something dark hovers over or broods within the town, and somehow Rowan is at the center of whatever is going on – for one thing, it is she to whom the local witch, Mama Lune, wants to talk, even though Rowan’s father is no friend to witches. There are many elements of fairy tale here, such a tree whose inside “was too large, and it seemed to recede impossibly far,” and apples that “tasted otherworldly,” all within haunted and deadly woods where strange things happen, not the least of which is the appearance of a girl named Fiona Eira who quite clearly has been killed – her heart ripped out – but equally clearly still lives, at least in some sense and some of the time. The Glass Casket is full of things glimpsed and partly understood, of odd comings and goings, of uncertainties that hover on the edge of understandability without ever quite crossing into sureness. Eventually Rowan sees something “so vile, the sight of it made her feel foul, dirty,” with “legs made of splintered bone,” with “teeth like great needles and eyes like the blackest of pits,” and realizes that this thing, this death-thing, is responsible for all the evil that permeates Nag’s End. Or is the true evil something that controls this monster? And what is to be done about all this? The responsibility falls on Rowan, of course, and her confrontation with Fiona unsurprisingly takes an unexpected turn; and this eventually leads Rowan to an important talk with a witch – not Mama Lune but Mama Tetri, who turns out to have a connection with Rowan dating back to Rowan’s birth. This in turn produces a lengthy explanation of everything that is going on, including what Fiona is (readers will have figured this out already) and what the terrifying creature is: “an old thing – from long ago, when the world was a wicked place.” Logically, if “logically” is an applicable word here, Mama Lune and Mama Tetri should join forces with Rowan to combat the evil – which they are aware is strongly witch-related. But instead, the witches bow out, saying that “this is not our battle” and that they “cannot make you understand the ways of the witches.” So much for that. The final battle, when it does come, is an intense one in which family ties bind and come undone, sacrifices of several sorts are made, and eventually Rowan emerges in a sort of ambiguous triumph that fits modern storytelling better than it would have fit the old fairy tales that are foundational to the plot and tale-telling of The Glass Casket.
Pieces of Me is a fairy tale, too, but one given a thoroughly up-to-date setting and taking off from modern science, which it twists into a sort of “angry dead” motif not unlike the one in The Glass Casket. But while Templeman’s book seeks resonance from the past, Amber Kizer’s goes for the more-modern approach of following disparate people – brought together by something they unwittingly have in common – and following ways in which their fates entwine. A high-school girl named Jessica Chai is the moving force behind everything: she dies in a car accident, and her parents decide to donate her organs to teens who are desperately in need of them. This is inherently unrealistic: organ donations go to people of all ages, and the odds that a teen’s would go to four other teens are astronomical; but without this arrangement, there could be no teen focus here. In addition to Jessica’s story, Kizer tells those of Vivian, who has cystic fibrosis; Misty, whose liver is failing; Leif, severely injured playing football; and Samuel, who needs four hours of dialysis a day. These characters are types – there is no real attempt to make them fully realized people, any more than there is such an attempt for Jessica herself; she is simply a loner, the child of divorced parents to whom she lies often and easily, and proud of her super-long hair that is cut off in the book’s opening chapter in a cruel incident that, it is suggested, somehow precipitates everything that comes afterwards. Disbelief needs to be suspended again and again as the book progresses and its protagonists live their separate-but-connected lives, with Jessica hovering over all of them like the ghost she is, initially drenched in self-pity and, not having had much of a life, not having much of a death, either. However, Jessica moves quickly from resenting the removal of her organs to involving herself in the recipients’ lives, and she gains empathy rather speedily, too, as when Misty – who connects by computer with Sam, not knowing that they share a deeper connection – flees to a bathroom to lament her appearance: “I tried to stop her. Hug her. Soothe her. I wanted to rub lotion on her skin and salve on her broken heart. The self-loathing radiated out until the bathroom filled and I felt like we drowned in it, like treading water in the middle of the ocean without reprieve. It was killing us.” There is a lot of this soul-searching and lamentation in Pieces of Me, and there is no neat pairing-off of the characters despite hints that this might happen – but everything does get tied up neatly, rather too neatly, at the end, in a life-goes-on message that specifically includes room for miracles (both everyday and exceptional). Like Fates and The Glass Casket, Pieces of Me has strong and weak points, straightforward ones and twists, entirely formulaic elements and ones that try to bend (if not break) various formulas. Each of these novels is aimed at teen readers, but there is enough variation among them so that it seems unlikely that the same readers ages 12 and above will be interested in all three of them, or even in any two.