Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Old Beginnings 12
Young Adult books.
Would you read on? Or rather, would a 14-year-old read on? All books rated among the very best for teens by the American Library Association, and all published in the past four years. Sources at the bottom.
1. Early March 1659
I am a witch. Or so some would call me. "Spawn of the Devil," "Witch child," they hiss in the street, although I know neither father nor mother. I know only my grandmother, Eliza Nuttall; Mother Nuttall to her neighbors. She brought me up from a baby. If she knew who my parents are, she never told me.
"Daughter of the Erl King and the Elfen Queen, that's who you are."
We live in a small cottage on the very edge of the forest; Grandmother, me, and her cat and my rabbit. Lived. Live there no more.
Men came and dragged her away. Men in black coats and hats as tall as steeples. They skewered the cat on a pike; they smashed the rabbit's skull by hitting him against the wall. They said that these were not God's creatures but familiars, the Devil himself in disguise. They threw the mess of fur and flesh on to the midden and threatened to do the same to me, to her, if she did not confess her sins to them.
2. This morning, my mother didn’t get out of bed.
It meant I didn’t have to go through one of her daily pep talks which usually begin with a song that she puts on at 6.45 every morning. It’s mostly 70s and 80s retro crap, anything from ‘I Will Survive’ to some woman called Kate Bush singing, ‘Don’t Give Up’. When I question her choices she says they’re random, but I know that they are subliminal techniques designed to motivate me into being just like her. But this morning there is no song. There is no advice on how to make friends with the bold and the interesting. No twelve point plan on the best way to make a name for myself in a hostile environment. No motivational messages stuck on my mirror urging me to do something that scares me every day. There’s just silence.
And for the first time all year I go to school and my only agenda is to get to 3.15.
3. Sailing toward dawn, and I was perched atop the crow's nest, being the ship's eyes. We were two nights out of Sydney, and there'd been no weather to speak of so far. I was keeping watch on a dark stack of nimbus clouds off to the northwest, but we were leaving it far behind, and it looked to be smooth going all the way back to Lionsgate City. Like riding a cloud.
The sky pulsed with stars. Some people say it makes them lonesome when they stare up at the night sky. I can't imagine why. There's no shortage of company. By now there's not a constellation I can't name. Orion. Lupus. Serpens. Hercules. Draco. My father taught me all their stories. So when I look up I see a galaxy of adventures and heroes and villains, all jostling together and trying to outdo one another, and I sometimes want to tell them to hush up and not distract me with their chatter.
4. The assassins dropped into the palace grounds at midnight, four fleet shadows dark against the wall. The fall was high, the ground was hard; they made no more sound on impact than the pattering of rain. Three seconds they crouched there, low and motionless, sniffing at the air. Then away they stole, through the dark gardens, among the tamarisks and date palms, toward the quarters where the boy lay at rest. A cheetah on a chain stirred in its sleep; far away in the desert, jackals cried.
They went on pointed toe-tips, leaving no trace in the long wet grass. Their robes flittered at their backs, fragmenting their shadows into wisps and traces. What could be seen? Nothing but leaves shifting in the breeze. What could be heard? Nothing but the wind sighing among the palm fronds. No sight, no noise. A crocodile djinni, standing sentry at the sacred pool, was undisturbed though they passed within a scale's breadth of his tail. For humans, it wasn't badly done.
5. How can some people's lives look so good when they're so foul underneath? That's the question I ask when I leaf through this photo album Macy gave me for my sixteenth birthday. I got it at my surprise party in October of sophomore year, three weeks to the day before Lani Garver showed up on Hackett.
It's full of pictures of me and Macy and our other friends, and we've got some wild and happy parade of the teeth going on. And it's not like we were faking happiness for pictures. That's what terrifies me most. If anyone had asked, my friends and I would have said in a heartbeat, "We rule the cule," and would have believed ourselves.
Macy scrawled titles by each picture in her pretty handwriting that slants backwards. The one most likely to rip our sides was "Uh-Oh, The Umbrella Ride," because of the disgusting story behind it, but like all "true brew stories," you find a place for it in your heart.
Old Beginnings 12
1. Witch Child....Celia Rees
2. Saving Francesca....Melina Marchetta
3. Airborn....Kenneth Oppel
4. Ptolemy's Gate....Jonathan Stroud
5. What Happened to Lani Garver....Carol Plum-Ucci