A CORNER OF WHITE
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Macmillan Australia RRP $27.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
She knew this.
That philematology is the science of kissing.
That Samuel Langhorne Clemens is better known as Mark Twain.
That, originally, gold comes from the stars.
Original, entertaining, a little strange but completely mesmerising, I loved Jaclyn Moriarty’s latest book, A Corner of White. It’s the first in “The Colours of Madeleine” series and my sense is that it’s going to be a big hit among young adult/fantasy readers, as well as adults who like something a little left of centre. How to define it? Urban fantasy meets contemporary realism? Add a touch of magic and you get the idea… it’s one of those books that defies boundaries – and so it should, because that’s really the premise of the story.
I can imagine it would be difficult to create dual universes, each one with a lead character with buckets of personality and a setting that contrasts just enough to spark interest. Moriarty has done this so smoothly – if there are cracks, they are forgiveable (I can’t think of any that really stood out). This first instalment introduces Madeleine Tully, who lives in Cambridge, England (known as The World). It’s a city rich in history, both architectural and academic; it’s the city where physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher Isaac Newton obtained his degree in 1665. In another world – the Kingdom of Cello – Elliot Baranski lives in Bonfire, the Farms. His world is one where seasons roam at will, bells warn of attacks from dangerous Colours and the Butterfly Child sleeps in a glass jar. As the reader finds, the Kingdom knows about The World, but The World no longer knows about the Kingdom.
Although the two teens live different lives, there are some striking similarities between them. Both have lost their fathers – Madeleine has not seen hers since she and her mother left him, while Elliot’s father is missing after a Purple attack. Both “run away” – Madeleine in the more literal sense for attention-seeking reasons, and Elliot to find his father. They’re both headstrong characters, somewhat guarded and idealistic, and mask their sadness with near-acidic wit (Madeleine) and being irreplaceable (Elliot). Madeleine lives with her mum and is home-schooled by an eccentric band of teachers, while Elliot lives within an eccentric community. Yet, they are worlds apart until the day Madeleine finds a corner of white – the slim seam of a letter – in a parking meter.
Thinking it’s a prank by a nerdy, wannabe fantasy writer, Madeleine plays along and writes back. Her letters to Elliot are tongue-in-cheek, bordering on sarcasm; he is somewhat bewildered and his responses initially focus on convincing her (or trying to) that his world is real. While she thinks it’s a laugh, Elliot is taking a big risk; cracks between the worlds must be reported “on pain of death”. In other words, he could be killed if he doesn’t tell the authorities. But when he realises that maybe his communication with the Girl-in-the-World might help him find his father (and help heal Madeleine’s sick mother), he decides it’s a risk worth taking.
With links to poetry, historical figures of note, the science behind gravity and colours, plenty of humour and a plot both fantastical and believable, the result was a delightfully refreshing read. I loved the diverse, entertaining cast of characters – they appeal to more than just young adults – with their distinct personalities. I enjoyed the way colour was infused through the story, metaphorically, literally and scientifically. The story was so well written, so carefully plotted, that I found myself pulled right into both worlds and felt sad when the book came to an end … but not for long for I know there will be a follow-up. It wasn’t what I expected – it was far, far better!
Available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan. This copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.
BETWEEN THE LINES
Authors: Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer
Allen & Unwin RRP$24.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
What happens when happily ever after … isn’t? That’s the question bestselling author and her daughter Samanatha van Leer explore in this story about a girl who crosses the border between reality and fantasy in a perilous search for a happy ending.
Delilah is a 15-year-old social misfit who hates school as much as she loves books. And if anyone knew how much she has read and re-read the sweet little fairy tale she found in the library called “Between the Lines”, the popular kids would never let it go. To them, it would be a stupid little kids’ book; to her, it’s so much more than words on a page – she is reading between the lines of “Between the Lines”. Aside from the notion of finding her own “happy ever after”, something she (like every teenager) dreams of in some way or another, she is convinced that there is more to the story than a handsome prince, a castle, an evil villain and a princess in need of rescuing. Just like there is more to her than the popular kids might think …
For starters, Prince Charming aka Oliver is real. And he likes the look of Delilah way more than Princess Seraphima. There’s just one teeny little snag. Maybe a big one. Since Delilah and Oliver are from two different worlds, how can anything between them ever work? And, just to complicate matters, how does Delilah convince her mother that she is not crazy?
As a fairy tale, it has all the basic elements. There’s a prince, a villain, a castle, rescue attempt and near misses, a princess and a happy ending. It even has a Disney-esque quirky sidekick for the leading man. As a young adult, there is the requisite love triangle, as well as the usual teen angst about fitting in, identity crises and so on. It pretty much ticks all the boxes there and I think young adults will love it. The illustrations are a great touch, too.
I felt a little underwhelmed by it though. The story employs the same multiple perspective formula as Picoult’s adult novels; because of this, I felt that her voice rang through stronger than her daughter’s. I’d have liked to see a completely different approach so the two voices could each be heard.
There were some inconsistencies in character development, particularly in regards to Oliver. He understood some things about Delilah’s world and not others. I would have expected him to be completely clueless when it came to Delilah’s world – that would have added a real splash of humour, too. The ending was a little too rushed for me, almost as if the book had stretched on for longer than expected and then suddenly everything had to be wrapped up fast. Without wanting to spoil things, I think everything worked out well for Delilah and Oliver and some of the minor characters, but I’m not so sure about the author of the library book.
I think Samantha van Leer has a bright future ahead – she’s had a fantastic mentor and this is a worthy start. Good on her for being so dedicated and carrying her idea through to the end. With her mother’s name as co-author, though, it’s difficult not to assess it free of expectation and the faults do stand out because of that. Overall, however, I think this is a good book for the market it’s aimed at and for anyone who needs a bit of happy ever after.
Available from good bookstores and Allen & Unwin. This copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.