Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Small Persons With Wings

I'm a slow reader. Each year, dozens of books are released that I would love to read and I only get around to reading about two of them. What happens then is I spend the next year reading books from the previous year while more dozens of new books are released that I want to read as well. It's a vicious cycle and I always feel so behind. So this year I set a goal for myself, to read 10 books published in 2011. I can fill the rest of my time spent reading with whatever I want and this way, still feel current. The first book I could get my hands on this year was Ellen Booraem's SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS.

When she was young, Mellie Turpin's best friend was a fairy. A fairy named Fidius to be exact. After announcing this to her classmates at school she's made fun of and called Fairy Fat, a name that sticks throughout the years and turns her into a social outcast. Little does she know (and soon does she find out), that her family serves as protector of an ancient fairy artifact known as the Gemmaluna, a moonstone ring that stores all of the fairies most natural, true magic (Magic Vera). The fairy community wants to get back to their roots and become one with their ancient magic once again, but to do so they need the Gemmaluna. Mellie's family is ready to rid themselves of the responsibility, but someone in the fairy community wants the ring for themselves. And they'll stop at nothing to take it.

With multiple starred reviews, this book has already caught the eye of some folks making early 2012 Newbery Medal predictions. Without reading anything else the year has to offer yet, I can definitely see why. It's very strong in voice and language. Mellie is cynical and witty. She's an outcast because of her weight (something not often found in children's books) and her belief in fairies. She's a hard person to like because she's such a smart aleck and even when people reach out to her, she lashes out keeping them at bay. Because of the way she's been treated in the past she's hardened. But this is what makes her such an endearing character too. Despite the wise-cracks and the sarcastic tone, Mellie is a girl longing for attention. A girl seeking approval even from those closest to her. She's a scrappy fighter and makes for a great heroine, although I did wish she'd take herself, and the plot, a little more seriously.

The writing here is top notch as well. I loved the following description:

It's a Saturday in October, one of those fall days that makes you think summer is overrated. The sky is so blue you wouldn't believe it if you saw it in a painting. The air is warm and sweet, smelling like dead leaves and the good kind of mold, the kind that stays outdoors.

Broken down to its sentence level, writing like this will undoubtedly earn Booraem props. It's fresh and witty and found throughout the book.

Often times being pleasantly surprised by a book causes the material to stay with you longer and to appreciate it more. I've got to be honest, the rave reviews drew me to this book, but the subject matter (fairies) and the girlie, glittery cover brought out my skepticism. At the heart of this story is a coming-of-age tale about an overweight girl growing into her grandeur. But beneath even that are some truly terrifying ideas I was astonished to find. The description of the real Gigi Kramer is frightening and the idea that the fairies can alter the way humans see reality is a scary concept. The way Gigi Kramer messes with illusions may keep some younger readers up all night. Scary stuff, and a little unexpected.

Not everything in this book worked entirely for me though and one example would be the development of Booraem's plot. It's quick and suspenseful, sure. And the pacing is rather effortless. I found myself burning the midnight oil as soon as Gigi Kramer's true intentions were revealed. However, I also found myself flipping back to previous sections for clarification. The fairy world that Booraem has created is very intricate and complex. Often, it's too imposing.

From what I understand, the fairies initially possessed a very natural, organic magic known as Magic Vera. Over time some fairies became bored with this and came up with Magic Artifica, a more sinister kind of magic involving illusion. As the entire community of fairies moved further in the direction of Magic Artifica they captured their Magic Vera and contained it inside the Gemmaluna, so as to never lose it. A third magic, Magic Mala then came along, more sinister and dark even than Magic Artifica, and it requires the power of a Circulus. The Circulus is a group of fairies spinning around very quickly, supplying the entire fairy community with a source power to draw from. Like a generator. Some fairies are good enough to perform Magic Mala (the ability to manipulate and move inanimate objects) without the use of a Circulus and that idea becomes very frightening to many fairies. Thus, a campaign to return to the days of Magic Vera. But for that, they need the Gemmaluna, which has been given to the Turpin family to look after for all these years. It's all very clever, and something I wish I could be clever enough to think of myself, but it's also incredibly confusing. It took a lot of rereading to get all that down and I don't even know if I have it all right!

I enjoyed this book and I think among students bridging the space between elementary school and middle school, or junior high, this book will definitely find a home. It's snarky, it's hilarious, it's heartfelt, and it's exciting. Plus it's well-written and it stands on it's own without the promise of future installments!

Final Grade: B

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