Thursday, January 22, 2015

Skellig

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Recently, I wrote about how certain authors just didn't connect with me, even though they are extremely well-reviewed.

A variant of this reading phenomenon has occurred in my community with David Almond.  Skellig doesn't really go out very much, but I thought it was one of the most extraordinary and lyrical YA novels I'd read in a long time.  I also really enjoyed Mouse Bird Snake Wolf, although I think that I am the only person, to date, to have actually checked it out of the library.  That's such a shame, because not only is it a fabulous story, but it's illustrated by Dave McKean (cue here my brother saying "Ew."  He doesn't like McKean's style!).  See what I mean?  To each their own preferences.

I keep trying to give teens Almond's work, but they always look at me as if they know I've lost my mind (I try to keep that under wraps as much as possible).  Plus, I've noticed that as soon as they see an award sticker on a book, it must be one of those read-it-for-school-adults-will-make-me-read-this books.  And off they run.

Okay, so ignore the sticker.  Ignore the cover (ours is pretty old and not as graphically interesting as the new cover).  Just read it.


Michael's family has moved away from their house in the city to a ramshackle, dusty old dump in the middle of nowhere.  Okay, that might be stretching the truth, but it's how Michael sees things.  He's particularly peeved because they did all this because his baby sister (so far nameless) was born prematurely and needs special care.  Naturally, his parents are completely beside themselves and watch the little one like hawks, and naturally, Michael feels neglected and left out.  You know, that nasty jealousy that grows in a sibling's heart.  And don't tell me that you were never jealous of your little brother or sister.

Determined to be as fussy as possible, Michael starts poking around the old shed on their property even though (and because) his dad told him not to.  He also makes friends with a cheerfully odd young girl who is their neighbor.  Mina is a nature lover and poetry-quoter.  She's a quirky dreamer; a not-quite-grown-up manic pixie dream girl.  Michael and Mina discover a pale, withered creature hiding in the shed.  They care for him, and feed him Chinese food (the other food of love?), and restore his faith in himself.  What's so lovely about this story is that while Michael and Mina focus on helping Skellig, they're unaware that in doing so, they are becoming better people.  Michael learns compassion and pity, so when his baby sister takes a turn, he realizes that he's loved her all along, and cannot bear to lose her.

Skellig's not an angel--not exactly--although he does have wings.  Perhaps he is hope--"the thing with feathers."  Perhaps he really is something unknowable who merely lost his way.  Perhaps he is whatever he needs to be to the people who meet him.  This is a lyrical, emotional experience and a prime example of magical realism at its very best.  



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