Traitor: A Review

“We’ve all got our own little wars.”

Traitor by Amanda McCrinaIn 1944 Poland WWII may be nearing its end, but the troubles are just beginning for some of the country’s long suffering residents. In the wake of Lwów’s liberation from Germany, the city–like the rest of Poland–is torn between loyalists to either Poland or Ukraine as their years long power struggle continues and threatens to tear the country apart.

Seventeen-year-old Tolya Korolenko is half-Ukrainian, half-Polish and wanted by neither side. Hungry and alone, he has become a sniper in the Soviet Red Army to try to survive. It’s a good plan until he shoots his unit’s political officer in a dark alley. Tolya knows what happens to traitors. He knows what to expect.

What surprises him is his unlikely rescue by Ukrainian freedom fighters. In Poland everyone is fighting their own little wars and soon Tolya finds himself dragged into Solovey’s. Helping the man who rescued him probably won’t save Tolya’s life. But it might buy him some time.

In a city where self-preservation and loyalty can’t always mean the same thing, Tolya and Solovey are both rocked by betrayals that will change everything in Traitor (2020) by Amanda McCrina.

Find it on Bookshop.

The story follows two storylines: Tolya’s as it unfolds in 1944 and Aleksey’s years earlier in 1941. How you feel about the story may depend on how quickly you begin piecing together the connections between these two timelines.

Contrasting the beginning and end of World War II, Traitor explores the things that remain the same as characters are driven to desperate choices both for survival and revenge. Tense prose and cliffhanging chapter endings make this novel a fast read although alternating parts between Tolya and Aleksey often cuts much the tension and–given the fact that Aleksey’s story is essentially a flashback–lends a certain inevitability to what should be suspenseful plot points.

Traitor effectively uses restricted perspective in both narratives to limit what the characters and readers know leading to reveals that sometimes expected and sometimes not. Unfortunately, it also keeps both of the novel’s main characters at a remove from readers making it hard to feel entirely invested in either narrative.

Traitor is a well-researched and suspenseful look at a rarely examined piece of history. Readers who enjoy their history with a large dose of suspense and an unflinching look at the violence of war will find the most to appreciate here.

Possible Pairings: Tamar by Mal Peet, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Light Between Worlds: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. WeymouthSix years ago Evelyn and Phillipa Hapwell and their brother Jamie went outside to the family bomb shelter. Years of drills trained them well to get to the shelter and not wait for anyone, not even their parents.

Instead of walking into a shelter, the siblings find themselves transported to the Woodlands, a forest kingdom preparing for a war of its own. Philippa and Jamie always knew any stay in the Woodlands would be temporary–how could it be anything else?

But even now, all these years later, Ev is still sneaking into the woods and trying to find her way back. Cervus, their guide in the Woodlands, always told Ev that Woodlander’s heart always finds its way home. But can that still be true after so long?

Philippa is happy to be home, happy to leave everything that happened in the Woodlands behind, and try to move on. When Ev disappears, Philippa has to confront everything that happened in the Woodlands–including her own betrayals along the way–if she wants to find out what happened to her sister in The Light Between Worlds (2018) by Laura E. Weymouth.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Light Between Worlds is a standalone portal fantasy and Weymouth’s debut novel. The first half of the story, set in 1949, is told in Ev’s first person narration. The second half, in 1950, is narrated by Philippa. (The audiobook uses different voice actresses for each narrator and is an excellent production.)

As you might have guessed, this was a heavy read filled with melancholy for what all of the siblings have lost and, especially for Ev, genuine despair. In other words, it was not a good choice to read when the Covid-19 related quarantine started in March. Be warned, the novel does depict Evie’s self-harm as a coping mechanism after she returns to London.

Readers familiar with portal fantasies will find the story they expect here while readers new to the sub-genre might feel more tension around the question of what happened to Ev. Both Evie and Philippa’s parts include flashbacks both to their time in the Woodlands and the weeks immediately after their return. While the Woodlands chapters are evocative and provide a story within the story, they never do much to explain the appeal of the Woodlands even to Evie who feels more at home there than in London.

The Light Between Worlds is filled with beautiful, visceral, evocative writing and offers a thoughtful exploration of both post traumatic stress and trauma. An acquired tasted but one that marks Weymouth as an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Symphony for the City of the Dead: A Non-Fiction Review

“We can trust no one. In a regime where words are watched, lies are rewarded, and silence is survival, there is no truth.”

Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. AndersonIn September 1941, Hitler’s forces moved against the Soviet Union in a bid to take the country’s capital in Moscow and the historic city of Leningrad (now and previously St. Petersburg).

So began one of the longest sieges in Western history. More than a million people died over the course of the years-long siege. Amazingly, despite crippling his own military from the top down and breeding a culture of such fear that officials preferred to make ill-advised decisions rather than risk contradicting him, Stalin and the Soviet citizenry held out. Faced with starvation, blitzkrieg attacks, and the continued severity and dangers of life in Soviet Russia, the residents of Leningrad held on.

In the midst of this bleak landscape, music became an unlikely ray of hope. Varying wildly between a darling of the communist party and one of its biggest perceived heretics, Dmitri Shostakovich was a composer known around the world. With threats everywhere from both the Nazi’s and his own government, Shostakovich would write a symphony to rouse the Soviet public during their time of need.

The symphony would speak when the people feared to, it would mark all that was lost during the Communist Revolution and the Siege of Leningrad. It would give voice to sorrow and loss as well as hope and redemption. Shostakovich’s symphony would offer common ground between the unlikely allies of Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. This is the story of that symphony, the country that inspired it, the compose who wrote it, and the war that shaped all of them in Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad (2015) by M.T. Anderson.

Anderson offers a thoroughly researched look at a slice of WWII history that might not be familiar to many Americans. Symphony for the City of the Dead begins with the bizarre transport of Shostakovich’s symphony (via microfilm) from the Soviet Union to the United States. After that prologue the book is framed around Shostakovich’s own life from his early childhood to his death. The book touches upon the communist revolution and explores the composer’s complicated relationships with his country and the Communist Party.

Symphony for the City of the Dead includes an extensive bibliography and footnotes in the backmatter detailing Anderson’s sources throughout the novel. Strangely, for such an iconic figure, little is known as fact about Shostakovich’s life. Anderson is careful to couch his own thoughts in research and supporting documentation while also noting when the narrative veers into supposition. The book also offers a thorough and detailed accounts of the movements that led to the Siege of Leningrad ranging from Stalin’s wild incompetence and paranoia to Hitler’s Wermacht strategy.

Because of the content and the level of research involved, Symphony for the City of the Dead is a dense book. The material gains a more narrative quality after the first hundred pages but it takes a while to really dig into the material.

Anderson offers a strange mix of the bloody nightmare that was Communist Russia during the Siege of Leningrad and the optimistic hope of post-war Russia. Symphony for the City of the Dead is a fascinating example of the power of story–especially the power of art and music–as well as thoughtful look at how the truth can be shaped in the telling. A must-read for WWII history buffs and music buffs in particular. Highly recommended.

The Book Thief: A Review

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakGermany, 1939: Nazis are gaining ever more power. The country, maybe even the world, is holding its breath. Death, as he will tell you soon enough, has never been busier.

Liesel Meminger is fostered in a small town outside of Munich. Times are hard and money is tight. But it is a good life. Liesel lovers her foster father fiercely and, when the opportunity arises, she steals books to even the scales of the world.

But nothing lasts forever. Not pages in a book or friendships. Not secrets hidden in basements. Certainly not good moments in Nazi Germany in The Book Thief (2005) by Markus Zusak.

Find it on Bookshop.

There isn’t a lot to say about this book that hasn’t been covered already. The Book Thief has received wide critical acclaim. It was Printz honor title in 2007. It was made into a movie in 2013.

The problem with picking up a book after everyone has been talking about it (and loving it) for years is that it puts a lot of pressure on the book. That’s a lot of hype to stand up against.

In this particular case, it was too much. The Book Thief is a very clever book. Death is the narrator. There are illustrations. It does so many cool things. But it was just never quite enough.

Honestly, The Book Thief is a miserable, gutting book. Not necessarily in a bad way. But not always in a good way either. The first parts dragged unbearably. They were ugly and dense but it picked up in the last third and the transformation is obvious for all of the characters. I can see how when it came out (and still) it is groundbreaking and shocking. It’s a powerful book if not a perfect one or one I ever want to read ever again.

Possible Pairings: Alan and Naomi by Myron Levoy, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, Traitor by Amanda McCrina, Tamar by Mal Peet, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, Hitler’s Canary by Sandi Toksvig, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Rose Under Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth WeinRose Justice is a poet and a pilot. Even though she has hours and hours more flight time compared to many male pilots, Rose finds herself working as an ATA pilot transporting planes that other (men) fighter pilots will eventually use.

Rose is an American with high ideals who wants to help. The war is terrifying, much worse than she ever could have imagined back home in Pennsylvania, but doesn’t that make it even more important that Rose help however she can?

Her course changes abruptly when a routine transport goes horrible wrong and Rose is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück–a notorious women’s concentration camp.

In the camp Rose finds unimaginable horrors and obstacles but also small moments of hope through the kinship and bravery of her fellow prisoners. Even as friendships are forged amidst small moments of resistance, Rose and her friends are unsure who among them will make it out of Ravensbrück alive in Rose Under Fire (2013) by Elizabeth Wein.

Find it on Bookshop.

Rose Under Fire is a companion to Wein’s novel Code Name Verity and set about one and a half years later. Rose Under Fire is completely self-contained but readers of both will recognize familiar characters.

Like its companion, Rose Under Fire is an epistolary novel told primarily from Rose’s journal. Snippets of famous poems (notably from Edna St. Vincent Millay) are included as well as poems Rose writes throughout her time in England and Ravensbrück.

Although this novel doesn’t have the same level of suspense as Code Name Verity it remains extremely well-plotted and poignant. And that is really all that can be said about the plot without revealing too much.

Wein once again delivers a powerhouse novel about World War II in this case shining a light onto the atrocities of the Ravensbrück concentration camp while highlighting the strength and persistence of the women who were imprisoned there.

As you might have guessed, Rose Under Fire is an incredibly hard read. The novel looks unflinchingly at the heinous “experiments” Nazi doctors committed against the Polish political prisoners known as “rabbits” from their time in Ravensbrück to the war trials in Nuremburg. While the story is important and powerful, it is not to be taken lightly and readers should be mindful of that before they pick it up.

Readers who are up to the task of a difficult read with darker subject matter will find a powerful story in Rose Under Fire with an incredibly strong and inspiring heroine at the center of its story.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie,  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Traitor by Amanda McCrina, Tamar by Mal Peet, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Code Name Verity: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth WeinCode Name Verity (2012) by Elizabeth Wein (find it on Bookshop) is a strange book in that, I’m not sure what I can actually tell you about it without ruining everything. A plane has crashed in Nazi-occupied France. The passenger and the pilot are best friends. One girl might be able to save herself while the other never really stood a chance. Faced with an impossible situation, one of the girls begins to weave an intricate confession. Some of it might be embellished, some of it might even be false. But in the end all of it is ultimately the truth–both of her mission and a friendship that transcends all obstacles.

Broken into two parts, Code Name Verity is a masterfully written book as, time and time again, Wein takes everything readers know and turns it upside down as another dimension is added to the plot and its intricate narrative.

If a sign of excellent historical fiction is believing all of the details are presented as fact, then the sign of an excellent novel might well be wanting to re-read it immediately to see just how well all of the pieces fit together. Code Name Verity meets both of these criteria.

With wartime England and France as a backdrop, there is always a vague sense of foreboding and danger hanging over these characters. There is death and violence. There is action and danger. And yet there are also genuinely funny moments and instances of love and resistance.

Nothing in Code Name Verity is what it seems upon first reading–sometimes not even upon second reading. This book is undoubtedly a stunning work of historical fiction filled with atmospheric details of everything from airplanes to Scottish landscapes. But what really sets Code Name Verity apart is the dazzling writing and intricate plot that Wein presents. Then, beyond the plotting and the details, there are the two amazing young women at the center of a book that could have been about war or flying or even spies but ultimately became an exceptional book about true friends.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett,  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Traitor by Amanda McCrina, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, Tamar by Mal Peet, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Elizabeth about this book!

Between Shades of Gray: A Review

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta SepetysOn June 14, 1941 Lina Viklas is taken by the Soviet secret police. Along with her mother and her younger brother, Jonas, Lina is forced to leave her home in the middle of the night to board a train to be deported from Lithuania with thousands like her.

As they are taken farther and farther from Lithuania, all hope seems lost. Lina’s father has been separated from the family to be sent to a prison camp. Lina’s dreams of one day attending art school or falling in love are dashed. With nothing but the clothes on their back and a few precious possessions, how can they survive? Will help ever come?

Refusing to lose her sense of self along with everything else, Lina clings to what she does have: her memories and her art. While dreaming of her past, Lina uses her talents to document the atrocities she and the other deportees are forced to endure. Lina may be far from everything she once knew, but she will survive. Any other options are too horrible in Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.

Find it on Bookshop.

Between Shades of Gray is Sepetys’ first novel. It was also a finalist in the 2011 Cybils for Young Adult Fiction which is how I came to read it. Since its publication Between Shades of Gray has garnered a fair amount of accolades and even critical acclaim in the form of a finalist spot for the 2012 William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

Sepetys,  herself a daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, brings light to one of history’s darker (not to mention lesser known) moments when the nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia disappeared from maps in 1941 as thousands were deported and sent to labor camps and prisons. These countries did not reappear until 1990.

Because of its content and its deft negotiation of this bleak subject matter, there is no doubt that Between Shades of Gray is an important, valuable book. It will undoubtedly be added to many history class curiculums and will raise awareness about Stalin’s cleansing of the Baltic region.

Unfortunately, being an important book does not make Between Shades of Gray a book without its flaws.

Both the story and its narrator, Lina, are difficult to connect with. The story has a linear narrative of Lina’s journey with the other deportees interspersed with flashbacks and memories of Lina’s old life in Lithuania. While the memories illustrate all that Lina has lost, they also appear abruptly and at little to the plot’s forward momentum. The ending is similarly abrupt not only having a a fifty-four year gap between the last chapter and the epilogue but also a gaping hole in terms of what happened to many of the characters.

Although Lina becomes a strong character as the story progresses, she spends much of the novel as a petulant girl who enjoys rash behavior and jumping to conclusions with little to no evidence to support any of her seemingly random assumptions.

So much emphasis is placed on Lina’s art but the book as a whole provides very little payoff in that department. Granted, Between Shades of Gray isn’t that type of book but I can’t help but wish that readers had been able to see Lina’s actual drawings after hearing so much about them.* If any book could have benefited from illustrations to add another dimension to the story, it’s this one.**

Between Shades of Gray is already a beloved book for a lot of readers. It will likely reach many more. The story and the characters are brimming with a potential that, in a lot of ways, was not fully realized. While Sepetys has created a story with many beautiful, compelling, important parts the sum of those parts never quite added up to a flawless read.

*Or at least to see a little more about what happened to some of the drawings Lina sent out into the world.

**Seriously, after you read the book, think about it for a second. How cool would that have been?!

Possible Pairings: The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick, Alan and Naomi by Myron Levoy, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, Traitor by Amanda McCrina, Tamar by Mal Peet, Maus by Art Spiegelman, Hitler’s Canary by Sandy Toksvig, Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Maus: A two-for-one graphic novel review

Maus I coverDuring my research last semester on graphic novels three pieces of information kept recurring: (1) Maus by Art Spiegelman is an amazing graphic novel that everyone–even the ones who don’t like graphic novels at all–love. (2) Maus is amazing and, having won a Pulitzer Prize special award in 1992, is one of the main reasons graphic novels have gained so much more mainstream appreciation as a legitimate format for literature. (3) If you read, write, or otherwise enjoy graphic novels you should be profusely thanking Spiegelman and Maus. (In all honesty I did make up that last part, but I think it was really implied in the subtext of all of my sources.)

Hearing all of that, of course, I felt like I had to read it. Technically speaking, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale can be seen as two separate books. The first book Maus II cover(Maus I) is titled My Father Bleeds History (1986). The second, Maus II, is called And Here My Troubles Began (1991). Eventually, the two volumes were published together as one book. I had initially planned to review the two books separately however after reading both I decided that, really, the stories are so intertwined it really makes more sense to review the titles together. (Amusing aside: I’m including the covers for both titles in this review, but they’re in German instead of English. Because this is my blog and I can do things like that if I want to.)

The entire Maus saga is very meta (dictionary definition: “referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre”)–very aware that it is a book and willing to make readers aware of that fact. The story begins with Art asking his father to tell him about his youth, specifically his experiences during the Holocaust. The structure here is smart and possibly too complex to have been pulled off with traditional prose. Spiegelman shifts between past and present with ease, deals with time lapses, and tells a compelling story all while illustrating (literally) the process of researching and creating that story.

He also does it all with allegorical animals standing in for people.

In this book the Jews are represented by mice while the Germans are cats (get it?). There are other animals represented in the story as people from different countries. While they are trying to pass as Poles, the Jewish mice are often shown wearing pig masks (Polish citizens are drawn as pigs) in order to blend in. Later in the story, once again creating a meta moment, Spiegelman shows himself wearing a mouse mask while promoting the book in “real life” (as a man). It sounds crazy when you try to explain it, but it also makes a crazy kind of sense.

Illustrated in black and white, the panels are on the small side and jump around the page. In other words, Spiegelman plays around with the sequencing to keep things interesting and fill the page in the best possible combination of panels.

Of course, this isn’t always a happy book. Much of the story deals with Vladek and Anja Spiegelman’s time in the Auschwitz concentration camp and what they had to endure there. And it’s depressing. At the same time, watching Vladek keep his head on his shoulders and survive disaster after disaster, the story has uplifting moments. At the risk of sounding trite, it shows that people really can triumph in the face of adversity. Not to say their experiences in Auschwitz had no effect on Vladek’s later life. It does. By extension it also greatly impacts Spiegelman’s life and how he and his father relate to each other.

Maus isn’t the type of book I usually read, largely because its necessarily depressing. I noticed my mood dipping as I worked through the book as I became invested with the characters. I also found myself feeling guilty while reading it. Here I am, half-Jewish (in so far as anyone can be half of a religion), and I know so little about that part of myself or that side of my family. My own ambivalence might explain why I cannot love this book as much as all its praise and supporters suggest I should.

To call Maus an ambitious piece of work is an understatement. Spiegelman takes on a lot in this relatively slim volume and , for the most part, delivers.

Possible Pairings: Alan and Naomi by Myron Levoy, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, Tamar by Mal Peet, Cures For Heartbreak by Margo Rabb, Hitler’s Canary by Sandi Toksvig

Tamar: A Review

Tamar by Mal PeetI find that the best way to tell if a work of historical fiction is effective is if, after reading the novel, I wind up doing a bit of research on the computer to try and corroborate facts from the book. If the story can weave history and fiction together that well, chances are that aside from being a good piece of historical fiction it is also a good book in general. Such is the case with Mal Peet’s latest novel targeted at young adults (though, as usual, this distinction is really a moot point–more on that later).

I don’t usually put much stock in subtitles to books. However, with this book, I have to admit that the subtitle really tells you everything you need to know. Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal (2007) really is just that. Find it on Bookshop.

In other words, it’s an exciting and suspenseful read with quite a few mysterious twists thrown in along the way (to be fair I should point out that I had guessed one of the major twists about thirty pages in, but that only made me want to read faster to see if I was right and, perhaps, made the ending slightly less shocking–you’ll have to see for yourself though).

Tamar is actually two stories. What I am going to call the main story (because it takes up more of the novel) occurs between 1944 and 1945 first in England and later (and mostly) in Holland. World War II is well under way, but as time passes, it becomes clear that the Nazis will not win. The main question, then, becomes whether the Germans will have the chance to leave their occupied countries behind intact or in a state of burning rubble. In order to prevent the latter, England’s Special Operations Executive (SOE)–a covert military group–have trained and dispatched operatives to go undercover in the Netherlands and undermine the German authority. These operatives, as far as the government are concerned, have no names being known only by an alias. The two SOE operatives at the center of Tamar are named for rivers in England: Tamar and Dart. Working from in Holland, Tamar’s job is to consolidate the resistance movement into a more coherent group. Dart accompanies Tamar as his wireless operator. Many other memorable, and important, characters make appearances here. The last of the main characters are rounded out with Marijke, a young woman who lives with her grandmother on the farm Tamar will call his home while undercover.

The other, smaller, part of the story is set in England. The year is 1995 and the narrator is a fifteen-year-old girl named Tamar–the granddaughter of one of the resistance fighters. Tamar’s life seems to be falling into chaos. Her father has disappeared, her grandmother Marijke is ill, and her grandfather William Hyde is dead. Inheriting a mysterious box from her grandfather inspires Tamar to follow his clues to understand his death and, although she doesn’t know it yet, to uncover one of her family’s oldest secrets as well.

I really liked this book. The story is a real page turner but at the same time Peet also offers a very clear examination of the human condition. World War II is a huge event for, basically, everyone. But as time passes, the immediacy of the War also seems to diminish. One of the great things about Peet’s writing is how eloquently he conveys the fear these men and women felt during the War–even as they chose to put their lives at risk to fight for what they thought was right. Nothing is black and white in this novel, even as characters make mistakes and stumble down their roads paved with good intentions, Peets offers them a chance for redemption and, maybe more importantly, forgiveness. That is why, I think, the Carnegie Medal committee gave Tamar its award and, write that the book “ultimately offers a sense of optimism.”

By comparison, the 1995 sections fall flat. These parts of the novel, serve as a nice counterpoint to the novel, but don’t really feel vital until the end. Similarly, Tamar (the girl) seems rather less likable than her 1944 counterpart (or Dart or Marijke) until the very end of the novel where she proves herself to be a strong, smart young woman.

So, the book is fantastic and you should read it. But now we come to a cataloging issues. This book was first recommended to me by “Amy” a young adult librarian with excellent taste who said the cover didn’t do justice to the exciting writing found within (the cover has actually grown on me). Anyway, the book was given to me by a YA librarian, I saw it shelved as a YA book. Then my other friend “Lea” (a children’s librarian) read it and told me she was having doubts about it being a bonafide YA novel. Having read the book, Lea’s review, and having talked briefly with Amy. I’ve concluded that it is a YA book although I’m uncomfortable making that distinction because so often people think that means it isn’t also an adult book (this one is).

There are a lot of things that make a book fit into the broad YA genre. In a general way it can mean having a teen character, which Tamar does, although as Lea points out in her review–not a teen with a very large role in the narrative. There are two other reasons to classify a book as a YA: it’s a book teens will enjoy reading and it’s a book that teens should read in that it speaks to their own experiences. As to being a good read, I hope I already made a case for that but I will add the caveat that this is a thick book and will take some time to get through with its smaller print and 400 some odd pages.

Now the only question is does Tamar speak to the teen experience. In one sense it doesn’t. Although the WWII characters are very young, I don’t think any of them are actually teens. And honestly age never becomes relevant in that part of the book anyway. But on the other hand it does because there is a lot to be learned (about forgiveness among other things) from the story and the characters and who better to learn than teens?

Possible Pairings: Alan and Naomi by Myron Levoy, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, Traitor by Amanda McCrina, Maus by Art Spiegelman, Hitler’s Canary Sandi Toksvig, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Time Dancers: A review

Time Dancers by Steve CashTime Dancers (2006) is the second book in Steve Cash‘s sweeping fantasy trilogy called “The Meq” (also the title of the first book in the trilogy). When forced to explain the plot of The Meq in one sentence, my reply is this: the story is like the Highlander TV series/movies but the immortals here are twelve years old. To get more specific, the Meq stop aging when they turn twelve until they find their ameq (their soul mate). Once they are united, the two enter what is called “The Wait” until they decide to cross over, as it were, becoming mortal and able to have a child.

The telling of this story falls on the shoulders of Zianno Zezen, one of the youngest members of the Meq. In the first book, Zianno searches for others like him after the death of his parents. Along the way he learns the significance of the stone he carries–the stone of dreams–and that there are others like it. He finds friends, both Giza (human) and Meq alike, his ameq, and a mortal (or perhaps it would be more apt to say immortal?) foe in the form of a corrupt Meq assassin known as the Fleur-du-mal. In the midst of all that, Z and his friends try to prepare for a Meq event known as the remembering which will reveal their origins and their purpose, a scant hundred years away.

Okay, so if you didn’t read the first book that was all probably a bit confusing. The reason for that is simple: this trilogy isn’t comprised of what can be called stand-alone novels. The sad truth is that I read The Meq about six months before I had the chance to pick up Time Dancers. It took about fifty pages for me to find my stride and maybe a bit longer to really get into the book. I suspect those difficulties would have lessened if I had read the books closer together. Slow start aside, the first book had me invested enough in the characters and plot and (warning!) ended on enough of a cliffhanger-esque note that I was willing to plod along until things picked up even if it did leave me with the impression that, perhaps, the first book was better (I later revised my opinion but perhaps others won’t).

Anyway, the Meq’s preparations for the remembering (AKA “the Gogorati”) begin in earnest in Time Dancers. Both Sailor and the Fleur-du-Mal embark on a search for the elusive sixth stone that may be vital to the Remembering and, much worse, to the Fleur-du-Mal’s continuous quest for dominance over the other Meq. Along the way, Z and his allies (which happily include all of the wonderful characters from The Meq) cross oceans and hop continents in their quest. Though the stone proves elusive, Z forges new alliances and finds several new mysteries along the way–including a Meq whose age is without precedent and another dangerous enemy.

Time Dancers is a good book. But not one that readers can follow without reading its predecessor, thereby firmly grounding this novel as part of a trilogy. What I particularly like about this book is the way Cash incorporates history into the novel. Beginning in 1919 after the end of World War I and ending as World War II approaches its conclusion, this book looks at major events of the twentieth century from up close but also from an anonymous perspective. Anyone interested in history would do well to give this book a glance to see how Cash artfully incorporates contemporary history as a plot vehicle for his fantastical story.