This installment: a teen book about WWII, a book on CD set in the South, and an odd, charming Scandinavian idyll.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
An amazing young adult novel set in France in '43. English girls "Verity" and her pilot friend Maddie work with the underground. Verity is caught and the Gestapo try to pry secrets from her. She's incredibly cool, upper class, and brilliant though her narrative, told by herself in the third person, is modest and candid. Her strategy works, at enormous cost, and we witness the ultimate challenge of friendship at the end. Vivid, with a sense of immediate history. (This would make a thrilling movie.)
Nightwoods by Charles Frazier
I haven't gotten to his big hit, Cold Mountain, yet, not being a Civil War buff. But a friend told me it makes for wonderful reading aloud. So when his new book with a theme that interests me (challenging children) came along in CD form, I thought I'd give it a try. Yes indeed, it sounds wonderful in the ear, especially since the actor uses a light, authentic Southern accent. The story is chilling. Young Luce lives a hermit's life, care-taking an empty rundown lodge on a lake in North Carolina. Her mother's long gone, she's estranged from her father, Lit, a diminutive local sheriff.
Her sister made a terrible marriage, got murdered, and Luce ends up with her offspring: traumatized, feral, mute twins. A gripping story unfolds as Luce works patiently and cannily with the children. However their father Bud, bizarrely acquitted, is on their trail to retrieve his ill-gotten gains and shut them up before they start to talk. A suitor, the lodge's new owner, does what he can, but Luce is almost as hard to win as her wards. Incredible suspense and a great sense of place.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
This recommendation came to me via Oprah and what a satisfying reading experience it turned out to be. (I know Jansson's work through her children's books and some strange, subtle adult novels.) Life on this very small island off Finland has its own set rhythms and rituals for young Sophia and her sharp but aged grandmother. Since her mother is dead and her father's around but mostly working, the two provide comfort, adventure, and support for each other, most of the time. There are squabbles, fears, and periodic gulfs between them--that's life, after all--but it's an essential and ultimately gratifying relationship. Exploring, inquiring, and creating all take place between them. We should all be so lucky. Two particularly charming episodes: the father's imported garden amidst the island's stringent ecology, and the new neighbor on the next island who initially seems like a nouveau riche boor but who turns out to love the island as much as they do.
Back next Monday