le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Sunday, February 26, 2012


The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore won the Academy Award for best animated short film!!!!

Many, many congratulations to William Joyce and everyone else who worked on the film - it's beautiful and clever and gorgeous and true. It absolutely deserves the Oscar (and any other awards that can be given, and maybe even some that can't).

The movie can be downloaded on iTunes FOR FREE! right now; the ebook/app is $4.99, but if you just want to watch 15 glorious minutes of exquisite bibliophilic animated film, you can do so for free. I cannot recommend this little movie enough.

I've been a huge fan of William Joyce's work for years and years, and I'm SO pleased that he's receiving recognition and prizes. His visual style is so wonderfully appealing to me - a kind of soft, round retro look that's loaded with curiosity and whimsy without ever, ever coming close to being twee. And he tells incredible stories; A Day with Wilbur Robinson is still one of my most favorite picture books. For a completely different tone from Wilbur Robinson, try The Leaf Men and Bentley & Egg. These are books that celebrate art and imagination and love and beauty and work and emotion - just as the short film does.

This is the second year in a row that a children's book author/illustrator has won Best Animated Short at the Oscars; last year's winner was Shaun Tan's equally glorious The Lost Thing .
Both films are thoroughly magical and inventive and are like looking inside a particularly fantastic imagination.

This is also a good year for Louisiana authors - William Joyce, and John Corey Whaley, who won the Printz for Where Things Come Back, are both Louisianans.

Go download the movie from iTunes now, for free, or go watch it on youtube or anywhere else you can find it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Question of Perspective

For once I was somewhat ahead of the craze over The Hunger Games; I got hooked when Catching Fire was still just an ARC. This means I've had several chances to teach The Hunger Games, and each time has been - as teaching any book often is - revelatory.

Now, just a few weeks away from the opening of the movie - which I will go see, though I am nervous - I'm thinking again of some of the adaptational issues that worry me.

There's the obvious critique of reality television, of course, embedded throughout the series, but especially prominent in the first book. The betting, the voyeurism, the enforced spectatorship in the Districts, the pre-Games television circuit, the Gamemakers' work to create the most riveting Games - for the audience - all of that is, I think, important to the politics of the series, though not necessarily to the plot. But what happens when the critiques of that culture of spectacle has been transmediated by nearly an identical culture of spectacle?

The homepage for the film announces that the 74th Hunger Games are about to start. But they aren't; we're about to watch a film adaptation of a book published four or five years ago. Everyone knows that, of course, and it's almost painfully literal - after all, isn't it more compelling for the viewer to be drawn into the Secondary World of the books?

Actually, NO.

It shouldn't be.
Panem is an appalling place, filled with appalling people - either appallingly oppressed or appallingly oppressive and oblivious. We don't - we shouldn't - want to align ourselves with the people of that world at all.

And here's the thing that teaching the book made crystal-clear to me: it is ESSENTIAL that Katniss narrates. It may even be essential that she narrates in the present tense. The only way we as readers can avoid complicity in the horrific spectacle of the Hunger Games is to be inside that Arena, to be looking at everything through Katniss's eyes. Otherwise, we are voyeurs - maybe reluctant, unwilling ones, but we are watching the spectacle, we are guided by the media's editing, we are caught up in the excitement and the dazzle and the suspense. If we're out in the Capitol, or even the Districts, we are not innocent bystanders. If we're in the Arena, locked inside the head of a tribute, then we are not reveling in the spectacle of the Games; we're aware of, alive with, the fear and horror and difficulties and pain of the Games. And that's the part that's important.

And how do you translate, transmediate, re-present, first-person, present-tense narration in a film?
Since you can't replicate it exactly, how do you counter the effects of losing that perspective, the perspective that guides your affective response to everything that happens in the story?

This is what has been worrying me since before I knew there'd be a movie. In class, we talked about the narrative perspective, and how important it is that we see things from Katniss's perspective. A few people thought it would have been cool for Collins to split up the narrative amongst a few of the tributes - Peeta, maybe, Rue, perhaps?  It may have been a student - I honestly don't remember - or it could have been me who brought up the problem of being a spectator versus participant in the Games. And they agreed; virtually everyone agreed that locating the narrative perspective outside of the Arena would NOT be good.

So when I came across this tonight, I was horrified. Capitol Couture. "Whether you're a Capitol fashionista seeking inspiration for your latest look or a District citizen tracking rumors about the Tributes and other celebs, Capitol Couture is the only place to turn for pictures and news reports on the fashion, trends and lifestyle that make Capitol living so grand."

No. No. No NO NO NO NO.

We aren't meant to be Capitol fashionistas. We aren't supposed to want to know the rumors or the trends. To use an unfair analogy, this is like setting up a page about the latest trends and rumors in the Nazi capital Berlin. We aren't supposed to sympathize with the oppressive, privileged class. They're shallow, oblivious, voyeuristic people who excitedly watch children kill each other on television, cheering and betting and getting emotionally involved in the forced plotlines.

We don't want to live in the world Collins has created. It's a miserable place full of want and hunger and sadness and instability and violence. It's a place where children are selected at random to fight each other to the death on live, national television. Where these Games are celebrated, memorialized, commemorated; there is Games-tourism to past Arenas, there are products and styles and trends, there's a huge economy around the Games, entirely aside from the enormous political and social power of it. You don't even need to read Foucault's Discipline and Punish to see the way power and discipline are being enacted here.

This isn't Harry Potter, or Middle Earth, or Narnia; this is a broken, post-apocalyptic world. There is no subject position in that world that we can successfully inhabit; at best, we can want to see things through the filter of Katniss's selfish, stubborn mind. We don't want to be her. We don't want to hold a 12-year-old in our arms while that child dies. We don't want to kill anyone. We don't want to have to care for Peeta, always worrying that he'll die, that we'll die, that the final moment of crisis has arrived. We don't want to have to hunt to scrape together food for our families, hunt and sell the meat and still be hungry at night. We don't want to be pawns in anyone's Games.

But the studio (Lionsgate) evidently wants just that. They want us in the audience of the Games, laughing and gasping and gripping the arms of our chairs and betting and reminiscing.
They want us to be complicit.

And by doing this, by creating a spectacle that draws us in irresistably, they become, like the Capitol, wielders of power. And we become the Capitol people, we become the District people.

They give us bread and circus, and we buy advance tickets for the midnight opening.

I'm worried about this movie.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Flying Books and Academy Awards

An animated short film created by wondrous author/illustrator William Joyce is nominated for best short animated film at this year's Academy Awards.  "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" is utterly gorgeous; it's got Joyce's clear stamp all over it, in the way whimsy appears (an illustration of Humpty Dumpty becomes a character, animated like a flip book) and in the round, retro style of the visuals. It, along with at least one other animation from Moonbot Studios (Joyce's company), were created as iPad applications, and thus are interactive narratives. Since I don't have an iPad (can't afford one, doing okay without), I don't know what, exactly, the app can do that the film doesn't, but it's there to be purchased for $4.99, well worth the price. the iTunes store listing is accompanied by truly glowing reviews of the app/film.

William Joyce has been a favorite of mine for years and years, ever since A Day With Wilbur Robinson. I've been collecting his books since at least my early college years, I've watched George Shrinks and the unspeakably adorable Rollie Poly Ollie (I also may or may not have stuffed versions of Ollie and his sister Zoe). I was - and still am - delighted that this short film exists at all, and that it's been nominated. It would make an amazing winner, especially following last year's equally glorious (and author/illustrator of children's books-based) The Lost Thing, a filmic version of Shaun Tan's book of the same name.

The Fantastic Flying Books needs to be watched, and I won't oversummarize - suffice it to say it is "about" Hurricane Katrina and storms, literal and metaphorical, and creation and creativity, imagination and art, loss and grief, happiness and joy, and above all, books. This is the kind of book-built world that bibliophiles and, I think, those of us who love  children's literature in particular, dream of.  The animated Humpty Dumpty in his book of nursery rhymes is especially resonant for those of us who live in and among children's books, particularly older, worn editions.

It's a silent film - the score is reprise after reprise of "Pop goes the weasel," a tune which takes on, incredibly, sad, mournful, griefstricken tones (along with richer, more hopeful notes). There's not much text in this, despite being about books; everything we need we see in lovely shapes and colors and expressions. The unbelievably emotive Humpty Dumpty is worth the watch just for himself; the life that's created in him, in his book-ness, is spectacular. Humpty Dumpty makes visible the truth that all readers know, that books are friends; we see, through him, how his human reader is truly Humpty's friend as well.

Joyce lives in Louisiana, and the film was made entirely in-state; it is dedicated to Coleen Salley and Bill Morris, both very important figures in the world of children's books, storytelling, publishing, and literacy. It is also, as the final "page" of the film tells us, in memory of Mary Katherine Joyce. This last bit of information, when I encountered it, was crushing; I immediately remembered my William Joyce Scrapbook, which includes mention of Joyce's children - Jackson and Mary Katherine. A tiny bit of googling reveals that Mary Katherine died of a brain tumor in May 2010, at age 18. Though the film is moving enough as it is - no, really, keep your tissues handy - knowing this makes the presence in the film of two girls - one a young woman, one a child - a little more meaningful.

I don't place much importance on the Academy Awards, as a rule, but I would be overjoyed to see this win an Oscar; it's an amazing accomplishment, a love-letter to books and reading in the form of a film.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

prize-winners and honorable mentions

This year I was on the stick with the children's/YA media/lit prizes. I checked the list of prize-winners when I got up on 23 January, and immediately put in  library requests for a number of them. They've been arriving in dribs and drabs, and I've been reading them that way, so this is a bit of a haphazard roundup.

Newbery Winner: Dead End in Norvelt, Jack Gantos.
Gantos is awesome, for about a hundred reasons not least being Rotten Ralph, who I have admired since my childhood. Unsurprisingly, I hadn't heard of Norvelt before the awards announcement; I am out of the loop, the real inner circle of readers and Important Book People who get ARCs and/or are able to afford new releases.
I liked Norvelt, but I didn't love it. It says good things about history, and story, and community, and memory, but not unusual, extraordinary things, and it doesn't say them in ways that felt truly unusual and extraordinary. I want my Newbery winners to be books that either make me cry, or dazzle me with their structure, language, characters, plot.  Dead End in Norvelt, like Moon Over Manifest, last year's winner, did neither of these things.

Printz Award, Where Things Come Back, John Corey Whaley. 
I wrote a post about this one already, but I realize I feel pretty good about this being the Printz winner. I'm not sure what else should/could have won, unless it's Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which - because I just re-read it again, for teaching - strikes me as a book VERY deserving of an award or two. Perhaps I will invent my own award and give it to the book.

Printz Award Honorable mentions!
Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.
Very recently Stiefvater was one of a number of YA authors asked which YA text they'd most like to see adapted as a film, to wich she replied How to Say Goodbye In Robot, which horrified me - that book is perfect, utterly perfect, as a book. Anyone who attempts to adapt it for any kind of even marginally mainstream audience will ruin it, which makes me question Stiefvater's judgment. I was also skeptical of this initially, because I associate Stiefvater with *Shiver* and the genre of paranormal romance YA in ways that are not flattering. I haven't read those books, and I still might not, but people who are smart and thoughtful readers mentioned Scorpio Races in positive ways, so when I saw it on the honorable mentions list, I thought: Why not?
As so often happens, I'm glad I did read it, because this was quite an enthralling book. I love the dual narrators - Sean and Puck/Kate - who inhabit such initially different-seeming worlds even on the same small(ish) island, both of whom have unique voices and personalities. Sean is horse-obsessed, especially with the capaill uisge, the water-horses that come from the sea surrounding their island. I had to look up capaill uisge, and then spent the next ten days racking my brain to recall where I'd recently read about glashtyn, with which they are essentially synonymous [answer: Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland].  The Scorpio Races are a yearly event, racing along the beach on the ferocious, mostly feral and carnivorous capaill uisge; someone always dies in the race, it seems, and others are hurt. Sean works as a trainer for the wealthiest man on the island; Puck is the middle child of three who were orphaned recently when their parents were attacked by capaill uisge while at sea.
There are any number of twists and turns involved in getting Sean and Puck into the race, and then into contact with each other, but it's so well-crafted and captivating. Stiefvater's setting, a clearly remote, dark island with its own customs, traditions, ways of being, is wonderful; it's definitely Celtic in feel, but is fictional, which gives her free rein to world-build. This is essentially a two-in-one romance plot and boy/girl-and-her-horse plot, and the two complement each other beautifully. The romance feels utterly convincing, almost painful, slightly strange, slightly inevitable, fierce as everything else about these two characters are. It is never cloying, or sentimental. Despite Puck and her brothers being orphans, their sorrow and situation is never pitiful; rather, it's an obstacle and an element of change that they all must grapple with (and do so rather poorly, which strikes me as utterly realistic given their ages - something like 19, 16, 13).
The ferocious nature of the capaill uisge is made abundantly clear, repeatedly, but at the same we're always able to see them through Sean's (and Puck's) perspective; they are forces of nature to be held in awe and respect, not terrible monsters to be vanquished. Like thunder storms or sea swells, the capaill uisge are there whether you want them to be or not; how you choose to respond to them is everything.
There are a number of secondary and tertiary characters, and Steifvater does a fantastic job of keeping them all within human bounds; even the characters we don't see a lot of, like Peg the butcher's wife, are complex and real and interesting. There is no real "villain" in the tale; the stableowner and his son say and do aggressive, terrible things, but we also see enough of them to know why they do these things.
Scorpio Races surprised me in how very much I liked it; it's a story about love that isn't a "romance," it's a story about horses that isn't a horse book. It's gloriously evocative of an utterly devastating place and people, and it's completely deserving of its Honorable Mention.

Printz Honorable Mention, Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
THIS was a letdown. Silvey's Australian, and I've come to be deeply impressed with contemporary Australian YA (Melina Marchetta, Markus Zusak, Simmone Howell), so I had some high hopes. I wrote about this on my Goodreads page, and I'll just reproduce that here:
This is not a bad book, but I do not - I truly do NOT - understand why it is a Printz honorable mention. It is very possible I'm biased because I read it in my project to read the awards books & honorable mentions; maybe if I'd picked it up by chance, I'd have liked it more. But not much resonated with me as a reader; not the plot, which seemed deeply implausible, not the characters, who were either stereotypes or bafflingly inauthentic. Charlie, the narrator, never sounds like a 13-year-old boy, not even a precocious one, except in a few snips of dialogue with his friend when they call each other dickhead. Jasper Jones is a ridiculous kind of shadowy cartoon of a boy, who doesn't speak like a teenager or act like one, and not because of the circumstances of his life. Charlie's dreamy devotion to Jasper at the beginning of the novel is interesting, and it would have been super-interesting to follow THAT path - why not have Charlie crush on Jasper, since it seems he's halfway there already? The sideline about famous murderers/serial killers is also interesting, especially in tandem with the search for the missing girl, but it ultimately doesn't go anywhere either. So much is left undeveloped, and not in a way that feels intentional and shadowy, sketchy like the real world; the core premise that Jasper is so much a target that a 13-year-old agrees to hide a body never feels plausible, especially not when Charlie rhapsodizes about Jasper, and explains how great he is at football, and how the girls love him.

The language of the book feels all wrong, too. It isn't BAD, it just doesn't seem right for the kind of characters, for the kind of story, that's being told here. I hateHateHATE saying things like this, but *Jasper Jones* really feels like it was aiming at being an Important Grownup Novel about Coming Of Age, but slipped and fell on its ass on the YA shelf. I think this could have been a good book, but something went awry, and Charlie wandered away from being a teenager to being a rather empty and pretentious plot device.

I really don't understand why this was named Honorable Mention. It's gotten good collective reviews on amazon and goodreads; maybe I'm just missing something, or maybe I expected too much? It's possible that I've also now read a goodly amount of truly astonishingly great YA fiction; the bar is set very, very high.

Printz Honorable Mention Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
Because I'm out of the loop, I didn't see this one coming; I didn't even know it existed until a week or two before the awards were announced. I love Daniel Handler, and try to keep tabs on him, and I also love Maira Kalman, who did her usual wondrous illustrations for this novel; how it escaped me is kind of mysterious.
I read this in one setting, and I quite liked it. Min is a delight, and she manages - as the story evolves - to be both a unique teenage character ("different," or "arty," as the text suggests and Min resists) but to also be completely a teenager. Min's love of old movies (all of which I believe Handler invented for his novel, and I give him massive props for that, because they are referenced constantly, sprinkled  throughout Min's letter precisely the way you do continually connect real-world moments to film scenes) and her personality in general made me think, oddly enough, of Ruby in E. Lockhart's Boy Book and its companion novels - but not badly.
The premise of the book is fantastic - Min is returning the detritus of their relationship, which lasted for about six weeks (yes! they are teenagers! in high school! this is how it is), accompanied with a letter explaining the significance to her of the item, and also the significance of it to why she broke up with Ed, the basketball-star popular boy senior. I love material culture, and I love thinking about material culture, and like Min, I imbue objects with meaning and associations more than perhaps I should, or more than most do.
Min is a smart cookie but not overly smart; she's engaging, she's interesting, she's able to describe their relationship in great ways. For all we suspect Ed - we know, after all, from the get-go that this relationship isn't going to last, and Min is angry at him - Handler manages to present him as likable, truly likable, so when the final shattering reveal comes along, it's wrenching to the reader on many levels.
A lot of people have raved about Handler's ability to channel a sixteen-year-old girl, and I suppose he does throughout, though the kind of girl he channels is one that lives in a hazy third space; Min is not a girly girl, and her closest friend is a boy - the space Min occupies in her world is not that of many, or most, girls in the "real world," at least not in my experience. But Handler does a devastatingly good job when he gets to the actual crushing moment of breaking-up. A nearly three-page paragraph, a semi-stream-of-consciousness burst of emotion, almost at the very end of the book, makes Min heartbreakingly real and representative of, I think, a lot of girls and women when their hetero relationships end. A sample:
"I like movies, everyone knows I do - I love them - but I will never be in charge of one because my ideas are stupid and wrong in my head. There's nothing different about that, nothing fascinating, interesting, worth looking at. I have bad hair and stupid eyes. I have a body that's nothing. I'm too fat and my mouth is idiotic ugly. ...I scratch at places on my body, I sweat everywhere, my arms, I clumsy around dropping things, my average grades and stupid interests, bad breath, pants tight in back, my neck too long or something. ... I'm not a romantic, I'm a half-wit. Only stupid people would think I'm smart. ... The only particle I had, the only tiny thing raising me up, is that I was Ed Slaterton's girlfriend, loved by you for like ten secs, and who cares, so what, and not anymore so how embarrassing for me." (336-337).
Min's sense of failure, of loss of self-worth, of helpless hopeless stupidity, reminds me of virtually every girl I've ever known (including myself) who has had a relationship end even a little bit badly. That feeling of the only thing raising you up being the boy - that right there is so true, and even the most well-adjusted feminist women I know experience this. I don't know, because I can't know, if this is how boys and men feel when they're on the bad end of the break up, but I do know that I can't think of any representations of this (in literature). It makes me think, reading about Min from a safe distance of I'm not sixteen anymore, that we still fail girls and women in our culture; we still make them think that value comes from having a guy, especially a successful guy. Even though Min doesn't wallow for long, even though she manages to pull it together, this feeling of no-worth-without-him is still strong when the breakup happens. I have read books with male narrators and protagonists who express horror, sorrow, dismay, loss, grief, listlessness - all kinds of emotions - when faced with their girls and women leaving them. But I don't think I have ever encountered one who responds with the kind of self-loathing that we see here from Min, that I have seen from all kinds of girls and women I know (including myself).
For these three pages alone, Daniel Handler's book is deserving of at least an Honorable Mention.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Where Things Come Back

Several years ago, there was a story on NPR about the ivory-billed woodpecker's seeming reappearance after "extinction." The woodpecker popped back up in Arkansas someplace, according to a couple of credible sources, and so NPR and every other media outlet on earth did stories. Small town in Arkansas, somewhat economically (re)vitalized by appearance of extinct bird!  NPR's story focused on Sufjan Stevens, who - at least then, in June 2005, was attempting to write and release a record for each of the fifty states; NPR had Stevens go to Arkansas and documented his writing process for what became the song "The Lord God Bird."
I listened to this story in my car, driving from some Pittsburgh Point A to Point B; I was mesmerized by the possible re-emergence of an extinct animal (because I am interested in evolutionary biology, and extinction, because I have read David Quammen's Song of the Dodo at least four times).
After hearing this story, I read up on the ivory-billed woodpecker, and downloaded some Sufjan Stevens songs (of which "Flint" from his Michigan album is my favorite).

John Corey Whaley also heard this story, and wrote a Printz-award-winning novel.
Thus two roads diverge.

Because, despite my best efforts, I remain annoyingly out of the very-current-releases loop, I hadn't heard of Whaley or his book until the awards were announced last month. Like the good booknerd I am, I checked the award lists as soon as I got up that morning, then promptly requested a stack of them through my public library's interlibrary loan system.

Yesterday, Where Things Come Back was ready for pickup from the library; yesterday I got it and read it, very nearly in one sitting. It's a slim book, but not skimpy; it just moves - or rather, draws in the reader - quickly and completely. There is deceptively sly flap copy, which made me think, especially once I turned to the second chapter, that perhaps I was holding in my hands something along the lines of Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler.  I wasn't, not exactly, but the book I did have was wonderfully, beautifully, intelligently crafted, with competing narratives that unwind gradually into single arc. The teasey flap copy made me hyper-alert for any and all postmodern trickeries, of which there aren't many (if any), and I resent that, because it took a small bit of my attention away from the real book (not the one the flap copy, and my brain, imagined).

If Where Things Come Back has any flaws, it's in the overly-intelligent and sensitive narrator - Cullen Witter - a common-enough failing in any number of novels for and about teenage boys [Rarely does one see an overly-intelligent and sensitive female narrator who rings true as a female narrator; this needs to be thought about, because I may just be exposing a massive bias of my own]. The moments when Cullen is distracted, seemingly annoyed, by attractive girls offering him sex felt most improbable; I have known too many overly-intelligent and sensitive boys myself, all of whom have made clear to me that their 17-year-old selves would never have been able to turn down those kinds of opportunities.
Cullen's a bit tricky to peg - he presents himself, initially, as something of a loner, possibly misanthropic, an outsider who writes in a notebook, who spends most of his time with his two-years-younger brother - except we learn that Cullen's best friend is Lucas Cader, who is well-liked, kind, popular, athletic, attractive. And then we learn that Gabriel, Cullen's brother, is the real eccentric: Gabriel spends all his time reading or listening to music no one's ever heard of (Sufjan Stevens included here). I'm still not sure what to make of, or do with, either Cullen or Gabriel: both are immensely interesting and quite likeable characters, but I feel like I don't know quite enough about either. This could be a flaw in the novel, or it could be a strength: has Whaley created such compelling characters that I'd want to know more about them regardless of how much backstory he provided? [hint: the answer is probably yes. I'd like to read a book narrated by Gabriel. He's just my kind of boy/narrator - if he wasn't 15, I'd have a regular old bookcrush on him].
There's an ivory-billed woodpecker stand-in, the Lazarus woodpecker, an opportunistic man who discovers (?) the continued (?) existence of the bird, there's the small town that capitalizes on the bird-given fame (the Lazarus burger! the lazarus woodpecker haircut! and so on). There's a beautiful girl who never actually gets her character developed; there's a less beautiful girl who does, and becomes quite interesting for it [Gabriel's book could include her; they could be friends, but absolutely nothing more].
There's the larger, stronger plotline: Gabriel disappears. Cullen and his parents drift around for eight, nine, ten weeks while Gabriel is gone. The impossibility of that kind of loss, which is never true grief because missing suggests both life and the possibility of being found, but the longer Gabriel is missing the more likely it seems that he is dead. Meanwhile, the bird is getting all the attention: photos, posters, articles, newsreports - everyone is looking for the bird.

Alternating with Cullen's narrated chapters is another story, which becomes a set of stories which slowly, gradually - and very artfully - interlocks with Cullen's narrative. It's easy for that kind of device to become a gimmick, or at the very least a bit of unnecessary narrative virtuosity, but Whaley somehow manages to make it feel absolutely, flawlessly right. It's a slow reveal, the way the pieces fit together, but it's not a mystery, and it's not poorly paced; we know that eventually the story of Benton Sage and Rameel and Cabot Searcy and the book of Enoch will mesh with the story of Gabriel and Cullen and Lucas Cader and the bird.

There's excellent attention to detail in this novel, tiny details about notebooks and cereal bowls being cleaned, that give a richness to the world of the book. The oddball characters - Fulton Dumas, for one - wear their literary oddity well; they're not there to be quirky or charming, they are there because oddballs are there. The world of the book is a fully-realized one that is simultaneously charming and repulsive; charming, in its richness and depth and small-town-ishness and strains of hopefulness; repulsive in the horrors and fears that are so easily set off and so hard to get rid of.

The more I think about Where Things Come Back, the more I wish it was a longer book; I want more detail about the characters, I want to watch them do the things they do, I want to know why they do what they do. Cabot Searcy's progress is mapped out for us, slowly and relentlessly, and he makes psychological sense to me, but I don't know, say, Ada or Alma nearly as well. I don't need to, for the book to work (and to work well); but I want to, because Whaley's a good writer and his cast of characters are intriguing.

Worth noting: the friendship between Lucas Cader and Cullen Witter is quite an interesting one. Again, there's a lack of depth that is actually narrativized; at one point Cullen flat-out asks why Lucas is his friend, and Lucas's answer fills less than one line of text. But Cullen's attachment to Lucas set off all of my queer-detectors - though he states, more than halfway through the text, that he loves Lucas "in a very nonsexual way." Early on, Cullen disrupts his own daydream to insert Lucas as the ultimate hero/rescuer, and all of his descriptions, his representations, of Lucas are at least faintly tinged by a kind of queerness. [Cullen mentions, briefly, the homophobic names he's called as an unathletic, smart male, then moves past that; I note, again, that queerness and gayness are not the same thing]. The male relationships in this book would be worthy of their own novel (or two or three) and maybe a critical companion as well; the connections and affections amongst Cullen, Gabriel, and Lucas are complex and layered, and not at all what I'm accustomed to encountering from male-protagonist YA fiction. In my personal, stupidly complex system of card-cataloguing, I might set Where Things Come Back alongside Will Grayson, Will Grayson as a "male friendship/brothers" theme of some significance. I'd also place this - cross-indexed, of course - with any texts from the perspective of a somewhat worshipful older brother. Older siblings tend to either be absent - if they aren't the heroes of their novels - or merely annoyed by the existence of younger siblings, if they are the protagonists. Siblings are functions, not characters (obviously there are massive exceptions to this), but in this novel, both brothers are full-fledged characters.

One of my favorite touches of Where Things Come Back (aside from the major touch of being able to weave together seemingly disparate items, characters, events into a glorious whole) is Cullen's narrative trick of displacing himself via third person. He writes things like "When one enters his kitchen to find his mother, father, and best friend all seated in front of a stack of uneaten pancakes, he knows that something strange has happened" (84). The shift from "one" to "his," from the seemingly impersonal imperfect to the very personal present tense, is such a delicious narrative trick that I don't even know how to talk about it intelligently. Something about it gave me (gives me) figurative goosebumps; that slippage from impersonal to personal, from a coolly detached perspective to the gut-twistingly personal and immediate. I don't want to ascribe this to "boy sneakily shows emotions while pretending not to have emotions," because that is a kind of gender essentializing I want to avoid [though it does have that representational quality]. Instead, maybe it's simply narrator attempting, vainly and valiantly, to talk through the things that are most awkward, painful, uncomfortable. The novel's frequent mentions of Dr. Webb - who we never do meet, and who seems to be a psychiatrist or therapist - hearkens back to old H.C. in The Catcher in the Rye (because no one can write a YA novel, or any novel, about a less-than-happy adolescent male without THAT comparison cropping up); there's a sense, as in Catcher, that this story is being told for, or at the suggestion of, someone else, someone who isn't the reader or the narrator. Leaving that mystery unsolved, unresolved, is one of the little gifts of this novel, one of many, many little gifts scattered throughout its pages.