Books I Like: Holes, Secret Powers, and a Talking Mountain Lion

book-1760998_1280While DJ worked on supper, I worked on story ideas. I’ve got one I really like, but I’m handling it very gently for fear it will all fall apart before I can get it into shape. It involves a lot of unrelated items, an unexpected thread that connects all of them, and a woman’s train trip through loss to hope.

Wow, that sounds great. If only I can actually do it.

Thinking about how I want all the pieces to fit together reminded me of a book I consider a modern masterpiece of young adult writing: Holes, by Louis Sachar.

If you’ve “only seen the movie,” I’ll forgive you long enough for you to find the book. The movie actually did a very good job with the story; I enjoyed it thoroughly. But the book is what you really need in your life.

The premise is that Stanley Yelnats, whose family is perpetually unlucky, is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to the juvenile detention center at “Camp Green Lake.”

There’s no lake. There was, a hundred years ago, but it’s all dried up now. All that’s left is a vast dry lakebed, where boys spend the blazing daylight hours digging holes. Eventually, Stanley and the others figure out that the Warden is looking for something, and using them as the means to find it.

Meanwhile, the book flashes back to events a hundred years before, involving a schoolteacher and the black man she fell in love with.

Meanwhile, there are references to an old legend in another kid’s family about a man who had to break a curse by carrying someone up a mountain.

And there are poisonous lizards, onions, and canned peaches.

And the stories go along parallel to one another until about a fourth of the way from the end — when suddenly they all intersect, fitting together like pieces of a puzzle, each one illuminating the questions asked by the others. It all makes sense, but you don’t see most of it coming.

I was utterly thrilled the first time I read this book, and have never been disappointed by re-reading it.

(When I was in elementary school, I also loved Sachar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School.)

Another young adult book with a plot twist that made the rest of the book fall into place is Hidden Talents by David Lubar.

This time, it’s Martin who is sent to a last-chance school for delinquents*, but he kind of deserves it.

* It’s not that young adults identify so strongly with delinquents that all the books feature them. This is just an easy way to fulfill the first rule of a good young adult story: get rid of the parents.

Martin is mouthy and knows how to push people’s buttons. But he’s not actually a bad kid. He soon makes friends with a motley assortment of guys who insist they’re falsely accused of whatever landed them there. One says he’s not an arsonist, even though he’s always starting random fires. Another says he’s not a plagiarizer and cheater, even though the reader gets glimpses of his schoolwork where he blatantly copies what his seatmate writes. Another is not a thief, although his room is stuffed with objects that don’t technically belong to him. It’s Martin who puts everything together and solves the puzzle. Well, part of the puzzle. Sometimes it’s easier to see everyone else’s hidden gifts.

I love both of these books because the storytelling is very skillful, while still giving the reader fun characters whose lives are worth the emotional investment.

(He wrote a sequel, True Talents, but neither DJ nor I thought it lived up to the originality and skill of the first one.)

While I’m on a roll here, I’ll also mention another book I read recently. I doubt I’ll do it justice. Kind of like Elizabeth Bennett trying to praise Lady Cathering DeBourgh, but Mr. Collins had to take over and do it properly.

The book is Covenants by Lorna Freeman.

It’s Bookgirl’s favorite book, and I don’t say that lightly. She she literally wore out her first copy. On our trip this past summer, Swanson the Second happened to have a copy in his library (why, yes, both Swansons have actual rooms dedicated to their books). He gave it to Bookgirl, who not only read it another four times before we got home, but has promoted Swanson the Second to the position of All-Benevolent Grand Bookgiver of the Galaxy. “We went to California and I got my favorite book!” she tells people.

She handed it to me this summer. I was very relieved that I liked it.

It features Rabbit, a soldier for Iversterre, a land which has no magic; his troop is assigned near the Border, which is populated by magical people and talking beasts. The farther you get into Iversterre, away from the Border, the more mythical all that magic seems. But it’s very real, and Rabbit certainly believes it; his own parents (in a hippie forsaking-the-world back-to-the-earth type of thing) left their royal lineage behind them and raised their children on the Border.

It’s a long, sweeping story that takes in royalty, assassination plots, dawning mage powers, ghosts, two clashing cultures, smuggling, spiders, ships, rebellion, elves, betrayal, evil magic, good magic, hidden identities, and coming to terms with the tragic effect of evil even when it happened a hundred years ago.

Bookgirl says it’s “really well written and Rabbit is funny,” and she has a crush on Rabbit’s commander, Captain Suiden, who is also a dragon.

I liked it because Rabbit is a very good man to spend a whole book with; he’s smart, but not arrogant, and he has good reasons for doing what he does. I also appreciated the way the author didn’t assign one particular race as “good” and the other as “bad.” There are bad elves and humans, and good elves and humans, bad talking animals and good talking animals, bad churchmen and good churchmen… it’s a mix. I think that’s why the book rings true despite the fact that one of the main characters is a talking mountain lion.

It’s a good book. Which is entirely too tepid a description for Bookgirl, but she’s not around to correct me. I’d called her in to help me with details, but she wandered away to read the book again.

Speaking of books — I can do this because it is, after all, my own blog — you should buy a couple of new books for Christmas! The Fellowship and Go Right are good reads, and different enough that you won’t feel like you got the same thing for two prices.

go-right-yellow-font-2-high-resolution cover

I didn’t set out to write a thousand words about books I like (or wrote), but I guess I’ll leave them up now that I’ve done so. I need to get back to my ideas about this story that could be pretty grand. But shh, say that quietly for now. We don’t want to scare it away.


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