Orphans are a common trope in children’s literature. I’m sure many people have researched and written on this topic, so I won’t do that here. But I will say that Rooftoppers, by Katherine Rundell with illustrations by Terry Fan (Simon & Schuster, $16.99, out today), delightfully plays with and challenges all the conventions of books about orphans. It is wonderfully mystical, and laugh out loud funny. Charles Maxim finds Sophie floating in a cello case in the English Channel after a shipwreck. According to the pin on her front, reading 1! it is probably Sophie’s first birthday. Charles, a scholar, takes her in and plans to care for her, despite the consternation of one Miss Eliot from the National Childcare Agency:
‘But it’s a child! You’re a man!’
‘Your powers of observation are formidable,’ said Charles. ‘You are a credit to your optician.’
‘But what are you going to do with her?’
Charles looked bewildered. ‘I am going to love her. That should be enough, if the poetry I’ve read is anything to go by.’
So Sophie isn’t alone; Charles does love her, and despite her rather unconventional upbringing and the fact that Charles allows her to wear trousers (!), she is happy. They are happy. Until Sophie turns 12 and the National Childcare Agency decides that Charles is an unfit guardian for a young woman. Sophie, who has hair the color of lightening, and loves to play the cello, has memories of her mother aboard that ship. She also finds an address for a music shop in Paris in the cello case that Charles finds her in. The two of them spirit away to Paris to look for her mother. There Sophie discovers a world of urchins — not street urchins, but rooftop urchins. With a little friendship, music, and just a touch of magic, Sophie might find exactly what she is looking for on the rooftops of Paris.
Did you have a chance to read Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys? If not, please do so immediately. That way you can then enjoy the second installment: The Dream Thieves (Scholastic, $18.99, out today). The Dream Thieves is written like a dream. I found myself moving out of this state of unearthliness, trying to figure out what what was real and what wasn’t. In the context of the book, magic exists. And the characters and the setting are so realistic, I become convinced that their reality is my reality and that magic must exist in this world, too. The Dream Thieves is slightly darker than The Raven Boys, but darker in a way that is entirely appropriate. Even happy dreams are bizarre and twisted. Dreams turn you up-side-down and in-side-out. They mess with you in delightfully terrifying ways. How many times have you woken up with the thought, ‘thank god, it was just a dream’, but then later you can’t remember — was it a dream or wasn’t it? Stiefvater’s second volume of the Raven Cycle brings up all of these confusing emotions. And it is brilliant. Like dreams, I can’t quite explain the book either. I know that if I start to describe it, that the description won’t do the book justice. Or I’ll get caught up trying to clarify a point that isn’t really important. I’ll just say that this book focuses more on Ronan and Adam. Like dreams, it all makes sense when you’re reading the book. But yes, it is absolutely vital that you read The Raven Boys first. In fact, I wish I had read it again right before I read the second book. I’m looking forward to when all the volumes are out and I can read them all in one go.
On a car trip to a workshop in April, I got into a conversation with another bookseller about how great Rainbow Rowell’s book Eleanor & Park is. I must have mentioned several times how much I enjoyed writing the review for that book. At that same workshop another bookseller was talking about reading Rowell’s new book, Fangirl (St. Martin’s, $18.99, out today). What?!?! A new book by Rowell? Why did I not know about this? Where’s my copy? Well I went to request a digital reading copy (booksellers can do that and it’s awesome). It wasn’t available. I logged in on our store owner’s account and it wasn’t available to her either. I emailed our rep. She put in a request. It didn’t go through. I emailed again. We spoke on the phone. I check both my and the store owner’s accounts daily. Nothing. Then the ARC arrived in the mail. I almost had to throw down with a co-worker for right to first read. Lucky for me, my name was on the package. I don’t know that I’ve ever worked so hard to get an ARC before. And it was totally worth it. In a lot of ways, Eleanor & Park is better. There is something about that book that just works. The almost glacial evolution of their relationship is bizarrely satisfying. Fangirl also contains a slow moving relationship, but this book is more about Cath and saying that Eleanor & Park is better in no way reflects on how interesting Fangirl really is.
Cath is a first year at university. She’s unhappy with the direction her life is taking, especially since a lot of those directions are outside of her control. She doesn’t like not living with her twin sister. She doesn’t like that her dad is living alone. She doesn’t like that she feels forced to expand her horizons and meet new people. What Cath really wants to do is write fan fiction shipping Simon Snow and Baz from her (and everyone else’s) favorite Simon Snow series. And she’s good at it. She has thousands of followers. Her fiction has spawned crafts on Etsy. She’s been noted as one of THE fan fiction writers to read. Simon Snow is an homage to Harry Potter with a little Twilight thrown in, and Rowell really excels at penetrating important and engaging concepts within fandom: plagiarism, ownership, the god-like act of writing, sub-culture, finding your own writing voice, and even the juxtaposition between living online and living real life. Are they your friends, if you’ve never met them? Fangirl is a fantastically fun book and the layers of fiction writing that exist in this novel are impressive. Intertextual scholars are going to have a field day with this one. As for me, I’ll be watching for Rowell’s next book.