Thursday, December 07, 2006

20 Years Later Their Therapy Bills Are Enormous

Another one of my pet peeves: YA books in which I need to suspend my disbelief by a noose from the chandelier to understand why, exactly, the world requires a twelve-year-old to save it.
This is done well in such book as His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (fate, coincidence). It's not done at all in books like the Blossom Culp series by Richard Peck (oh, do read these, really), in which the drama is not about saving the world. It's done pretty poorly in the book I'm reading now, The People of Sparks, by Jean DePrau. This is a sequel to The City of Ember, which had a similar flaw, though somehow not as troubling.

Really, though, a village of 300 is inundated with 400 refugees, neither group has any adult who takes even an informal leadership role. Instead, one kid starts fomenting rebellion and another couple of kids try to stop him. The adults are sheep--not in an unconvincing way, but there isn't even ONE adult who'll step up?

A Series of Unfortunate Events is the worst offender here. After the fourth time the kids foil the evil Count Olaf and expose him to their trustee Mr. Poe, you'd think the fifth time he'd believe them, or even listen to the end of their sentence, when they explain that the tall skinny guy with one eyebrow IS in fact Count Olaf again.

Harry Potter is interesting here. The first three books bothered me a bit in this regard. Why don't the adults see anything? Why don't they listen to him? He's powerless, and under attack, and it seems to fly under everyone's radar.

It's gotten much better as it moved along, though. As the stakes go up, everyone IS fighting, as hard as they can. But they can't fully protect him, which I think is a complicated and touching conflict. Trouble is finally thrust upon Harry by fate and life, instead of just by J.K. Rowling.

It's kind of sad about The People of Sparks, because the setup is interesting, and the high points are pretty exciting. But the lack of coherent adult behavior is a huge flaw, and affects the book in a lot of ways that are kind of dragging down my experience. Sorry to say.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Further Conjunctions

First: I had always known the word "decimate" to mean "destroy utterly; to wipe out." Well, what it actually refers to is the Roman practice (if that's the word I want) for the destruction of one tenth of your men. Apparently it was a punishment that was laid against the army for failure or cowardice--the men were required to kill one in ten of their own comrades. Good GOD, are you kidding me?

The source of this is Dreaming the Bull, which is one of the Boudica books (she's the Warrior Queen, you know). There's a little too much Rome and not enough British Islanders, if you ask my opinion, but it'll do for a sweeping historical saga.

Also, TWO conjunctions on the same day. Both stemming from the same book, in fact--the interminable Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers. Weakest Wimsey mystery I've read yet, mostly due to its prolonged examination of the romance of the newlywed protagonists. (The subtitle is "A love story with detective interruptions," and well-named.) But I found a reference to a Gordian knot on page 123, coincidentally not half an hour after I learned what a Gordian knot was while reading The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket. And neither five pages nor ten minutes later, Lord Peter mentions that, unlike Dickens, he wouldn't hang Fagin for being a pickpocket. This not one week after reading John Sutherland's complaint in one of his "literary puzzles" books that there was really no reason to execute Fagin, except that he's the villain of the novel and we hate him. Legally, they hadn't a leg to stand on.

This post kind of sucks, but Blogger's being a pain, so I'm going to post and go see if I can fix my interface. Wish me luck.