Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What we're reading: Magic and poetry

The Green Man
by Michael Bedard
304 pages
Magical realism
Reading level: 11-15
Reviewed by: Melissa

This book is what I would call a "soft read," but not in the usual meaning of the phrase, which is a coming-of-age story for/about teenage girls, with a little romance thrown in and some minor problems to overcome. Well, now that I read that definition, this book IS all those things, but it's also more. There are supernatural elements, mysterious strangers, unresolved thoughts and feelings, and poetry--some actual poetry, and lots of talk about poetry and about being a poet. I think the poetic aspect was what originally convinced me to buy it for the young adult section; I felt that anyone who is a young poet, perhaps struggling to find a voice, would identify with the people in The Green Man, particularly with O (for Ophelia), the protagonist.

The story starts out being fairly straightforward: O's father has to travel to Italy for his work; O hates to fly and doesn't want to go; her aunt Emily has recently suffered a heart attack; so O's father decides the ideal situation is to solve two problems with one solution by having O stay with her aunt while he is gone, so that they can keep an eye on one another. Emily is a fairly well known, published poet, and she also owns and lives above a used/rare bookstore called The Green Man. Since she had the heart attack, things have gotten a bit out of hand, and O, a tidy sort of girl, jumps right in and helps to bring order out of chaos, while making her aunt eat a healthier diet and trying to persuade her to quit smoking. Meanwhile, Emily tries in her own eccentric way to exert her influence to keep O from making typical teenage mistakes. That's the normal, "soft" part of the book. Then there is the rest...

Emily has strange dreams about a magic show that took place several generations ago, when a sinister magician held a room full of children captivated by his unusual tricks, and she worries about what this may mean for the present day as the anniversary of that original event comes around. O meets a boy who becomes a regular around the bookstore, but she doesn't know his name, or where he lives, or  anything about him, really, and Emily begins to worry that the boy is someone different than he seems. Poets roam the bookstore...some of them friends of Emily's, and some of them strangely reminiscent of the people in old photos hanging on the walls...and then there is the mysterious Miss Linton...

I enjoyed reading this book. It was nicely written, and refreshingly innocent, compared to the current craze for dystopian drama. I might almost call it old-fashioned--it reminded me of some of the books I read when I was young, like the Green Knowe books by Lucy M. Boston, in which a boy and his grandmother live in an old house inhabited by the spirits of children who lived there in ages past. The poetry is an added element to the book that makes it more compelling.

The cover is a good one to go with the story--it's basically the sign on the front of the bookstore. But I'm not so sure about how appealing it will be to draw people into the book. I would rate this book 3.5. You can find it on the "New Books" shelf at Central and Buena Vista.

Apparently this book is a sequel to Bedard's book A Darker Magic, which was published back in 1987, and which tells the tale of the sinister magic show, featuring the elderly Miss Potts and her pupil, Emily, as a young girl. But all those who read that book said it wasn't necessary to understanding this one, and in fact I didn't even realize it was a sequel until I looked it up on Goodreads. We don't have it at the library, and it appears to be out of print.

If you are curious about the background and history of the Green Man (not the bookstore in the book, but the legend behind it), here is an article on Wikipedia that summarizes it pretty well.

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