Burn by Patrick Ness

I have read two books by Patrick Ness, the unforgettable, award winning YA (Young Adult) A Monster Calls and one of his two novels for adults The Crane Wife.

The first one was written with the help of a powerful presence, in that it was the brainchild of the writer Siobhan Dowd , who didn’t live long enough to write the story herself, requesting that Ness take over and do it for her readers. And what he accomplished as a result was extraordinary, a dark tale featuring a monstrous yew tree that torments a grieving boy.

I wanted to read more, so chose The Crane Wife a modern retelling of a Japanese myth he read as a child. And enjoyed it as well.

Burn Patrick Ness Dragon FantasyDragon Symbolism

Seeing that he had a new book out and being in a reading lull, I decided to read this latest YA novel Burn, a book that features a world where dragons are employed as farm workers and a cult of Believers reveres them, one of the members has been told by their leadership and foretold by a prophecy that he must stop certain events from occurring.

On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957 – the very day, in fact, that Dwight David Eisenhower took the oath of office for the second time as President of the United States of America – Sarah Dewhurst waited with her father in the parking lot of the Chevron gas station for the dragon he’d hired to help on the farm.

Featuring two dragons,  it reads more like realistic fiction than fantasy, I’d hoped the dragon presence to be greater, but it seems we only need a couple to be taught a lesson. We like dragon energy and symbolism here.

 Symbolically the dragon brings us a message of strength, courage and fortitude, they are messengers of balance and magic, encouraging us to tap into our psychic nature and see the world through the eyes of mystery and wonder.

The book is set in the 1950’s in America, racism and a mistrust of foreigners brings two young people together; the Russian blue dragon Kazimir (it’s set in the Cold war era) intervenes when the racist, trouble-making Deputy sheriff steps out of line.

“A Russian dragon,” the Deputy said. “In my town. With the way the world is today. You a Communist, claw?”

“I am a dragon,” the dragon said simply.

“You a threat to my country?”

“I do not know. Are you a threat to mine?”

The dragon might be friend or foe, depending on whether you believe Sarah, her father or the sheriff. But for sure, it has something to do with the prophecy that is driving everyone towards their farm for a bit of a showdown.

A couple of FBI agents are involved, creating an atmosphere of suspense as they pursue the person believed to be about to create chaos in their world across the country.

As we read, we are not sure whether the dragons are a force for good or otherwise and that aspect of the mystery carries through to the end and left me wondering whether there might be a sequel to the story as there were many elements and questions I had, that could have been explored, that may have been held back deliberately. Though the mystery is solved, there is a desire to explore further the world that has been discovered.

Teenage Reading and YA Fiction

Interesting for fans of fantasy teenage fiction, introducing historical-political elements about society in that era, the way foreigners and those of colour are mistrusted and maltreated, paranoid attitudes about communism, gay rights and cult fanaticism.

And the superheroes are those of our imagination, fire-breathing dragons and innocent not-yet corrupted children.

Do you like to read outside your normal genre occasionally? Have you read Patrick Ness?


Lucretia and the Kroons

Unsure quite I was pre-approved to read Lucretia and the Kroons’, published in July 2012, I was however curious to read Victor Lavalle’s novella, described by Gary Shteyngart as a master of literary horror.

After reading an audio transcript of an interview between Lavalle and Amy Minton on Narrative Voice, I decided to download his book and find out what it was all about, it being good to read outside what one would ordinarily choose.

It’s an adolescent literary horror of the tame kind and might even be considered magic realism depending on how you interpret it.  The world Lucretia enters can be seen as a metaphor for that which we either witness as an observer or experience as one who is mortally ill – that place somewhere between the living and the dead. Lavalle’s flourishing imagination takes two girls to a place that may or may not exist on an adventure of a zombie-ish kind.

Lucretia celebrated her 12th birthday without her best friend Sunny because she was too ill to attend. Lucretia is determined to spend time with her friend to make up for it and so arranges with much difficulty for Sunny to spend an afternoon with her, convincing her mother to leave them unsupervised for two hours.

Just before Sunny’s imminent arrival, Lucretia’s brother Louis tells her a story about the Kroons, the people who used to live two floors up and relishes warning her, as only older brothers can do, of the horrors that can happen to children. Lucretia is afraid for herself and especially for Sunny, who lives one floor up, so decides to take matters into her own hands with the intention of rescuing her friend.

The experience of reading Victor Lavalle is a little like Murakami for teenagers, unique multi-layered interpretations of reality or non-reality which require the reader to let go and read with an open mind. I found myself looking for and finding many parallel meanings, not necessarily those the author intended, but that is the magic of the book, that her entrance into this other worldly place can be interpreted in different ways. It did leave questions which a successfully written magic realism story inevitably does about what really did happen and the answer I find is always best when left to the reader’s interpretation rather than dictated by the author.

The author does offer an alternative interpretation in the final pages of the book, which really I almost prefer to ignore, because it was not required and added nothing to the story and might only serve to confuse younger readers and make it less likely to be something they could relate to.

The Tragedy of Lucretia Sandro Botticelli ca.1500-1501 via Wikipedia

I think this book and others like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline are interesting for young people who are drawn towards the much more imaginative, often dark, transformational kind of oeuvres. It is not what I read as a child, but it is what my daughter likes to read and create (graphic novels included) characters that are different from the norm, semi-gothic at times, avant-garde (not even sure of an apt word to describe it) and wonderful in a kind of ghoulish way, though the troubles they must overcome are no different to many others, who might read about them in a more conventional way. I think Lavalle is onto a good thing.

Note: This book was an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC), provided by the publisher via NetGalley.