This wondrous novel from acclaimed author Catherynne Valente was inspired by the Bronte siblings' childhood writings about an imaginary world they invented called Glass Town and spent endless hours playing in the parsonage at Haworth. As the novel begins, 12-year-old Charlotte and 10-year-old Emily – still mourning the deaths of their two older sisters - are dreading "The Beastliest Day," the return to boarding school. The girls are en route, escorted by 11-year-old Branwell and eight-year-old Anne, when they find themselves whisked off to Glass Town, where their toy soldiers have come to life. Wellington commands an army of limeskin soldiers; Napoleon commands an army of frogs and rides a fire-breathing ceramic rooster. "Don’t worry, Em," Charlotte tells her sister. "We're only in an insane, upside-down world populated by our toys, our stories and Napoleon riding a giant chicken on fire. Nothing so bad as School." This is a world where words have real power, where the encyclopedia is "the son of the Gods, sent to redeem us from disorder" - and where a magic potion can bring the dead back to life. Valente offers dazzling wordplay, cleverly weaving in amusing references to the Brontes' life and work (there's a Wildfell Ball, the girls go by false names Currer and Ellis Bell, Charlotte muses that Mary Shelley might have named her wicked scientist "Edward or Mason or Rochester or something") that will resonate only with readers already familiar with the Brontes' work. Emily, painted silver to disguise her status as a "breather," gets her first kiss from young Lord Byron. Jane Austen shows up as a killjoy although there is this: "You must try to hear one of Janey's storyables while you're here; they're better than any of the desserts." The young Brontes the author presents seem to hew closely to the persons they were: Charlotte commanding, Emily the smartest, Branwell jealous of his sisters' talents, Anne, the quiet deep one. As the characters argue about what makes a good story, the problems with happy endings, the choices that must be made, the children's struggles to find courage in this imaginary world reflect the hard lessons they have learned in the real world they left behind. This lovely book will appeal to children 10 and up and to Bronte fans of any age.
Spinning by Tillie Walden; First Second, 392 pages ($17.99) Ages 12 and up.
The world of competitive figure and synchronized skating dominated Tillie Walden's life for 12 years, and this compelling memoir offers both a fascinating inside look at this uniquely demanding sport and at Tillie's conflicted feelings about it, her anxiety about competing, her struggle to fit in and make friends, particularly after her family moved from New Jersey to Texas, her coming of age and her coming out. Through graphic panels in muted tones of lavender and yellow, Walden offers a picture of a serious, quiet girl, who had to get up before dawn for lessons, whose glasses would fly off during certain spins, who was always certain she had done everything wrong even when she did well. She walks us through the jumps and spins, giving an idea of just how complicated they are and how easy it is to make a mistake. She describes her embarrassment about the revealing skating outfits and the intense pressure of big competitions. But most of all, she offers a painfully intimate look at her lonely childhood and adolescence – and her small steps toward coming into her own, finding her first girlfriend, leaving skating behind.