Monday, September 3, 2012
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM)
This week, I'd like to spotlight one of the most incredible middle grade books I have read in a long time (make that, I have read ever): Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz.
Because I go all gushy when I try to summarize it, here is the publisher's description:
The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants.
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall.
As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late.
Newbery Medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz’s Victorian gothic is a rich banquet of dark comedy, scorching magic, and the brilliant and bewitching storytelling that is her trademark.
Laura Amy Schlitz truly is a master storyteller. The deftness with which this story was told, the believibility and distinction of the varying voices through which she narrated, and the vivid world-building left me stunned. Literally. The beauty of this book, both its story and its words, made me gasp. The plotting and pacing made my heart pound. The emotion and themes left me thinking about it long after I had closed the covers. For me, that's the mark of a book that has gone beyond good to being great. Splendors and Glooms is going to be a classic.
I apologize for sounding like a high school essay here (but I always enjoyed those high school literary analyses!), but Splendors and Glooms stands out to me as perhaps the best exploration of the theme of grace that I have ever encountered in a children's book. In face, grace could almost be seen as a distinct character within the story: always there, always working and pulling from different directions, invisible yet ever present. I recently read one of Flannery O'Connor's essays in which she spoke of a moment necessary to every good story: the moment when grace is presented to a character and they must choose whether or not to accept it. That moment in Splendors and Glooms made me stop everything I was doing (I was trying to brush Lucy's hair with one hand while holding the book open with the other); my jaw dropped and I whispered, "Oh. My. Goodness. This is amazing." I generally don't talk to the books I'm reading. (Really.) But in this case I not only wanted to talk to it, but hug it. I will also hug Laura Amy Schlitz if I ever get the chance--be forewarned! I am so grateful to her for writing this incredible story and for giving it to the world.