A Candle in Her Room

I'm so pleased to have picked up A Candle in Her Room by Ruth M. Arthur (Atheneum, 1966) at the book sale, despite (or perhaps because of) its dated cover. It's just the sort of book I would have been enraptured by as an eleven-year-old, one in which three generations of young women living in Pembrokeshire, Wales are haunted by a wooden doll. Even now I read it in a similarly rapt state on a rainy Saturday, and felt closer to my eleven-year-old self than I have in a long time!

I'm also pleased to have discovered the work of Ruth M. Arthur, who wrote a whole list of Gothic novels for girls in the 1960s and 70s, none of which I had previously read. How could that be? Anyway, A Candle in Her Room was the first of those, and introduces a lot of the conventions that Arthur seems to have returned to again and again: a female first person narrator; an evocative setting to which the narrator moves; a multi-generational (or parallel historical) plot; and an element of fantasy or magic, usually involving a talisman of some sort.

A Candle in Her Room actually has three narrators (they all sound remarkably alike). The first section is narrated by Melissa, whose family moves from London to the Old Court in Pembrokeshire sometime before WWI. Melissa has two younger sisters, Judith and Briony, and while it's Briony who finds the wooden doll, Judith--the artistic, sophisticated sister--is the one who becomes almost possessed by it. After Melissa falls off a cliff and is confined to a wheelchair, Judith runs off with Melissa's boyfriend Carew and the two of them are married in London.

Subsequent sections are narrated by Dilys, Judith and Carew's daughter; Melissa again, as she searches for Dilys's child following WWII; and Nina, who comes to live with Melissa at the Old Court. Dido, the wooden doll (her name is carved into her back) is a mysterious, malignant presence throughout: her origins are never explained, and ultimately Nina must destroy her and her hold on the family in a terrific bonfire (as seen on the cover).

While the plot of A Candle in Her Room is often melodramatic (I'm thinking of poor Dilys in particular), the narration of events is somewhat removed from the experience of them. There is a lot of matter-of-fact telling. Intentional or not, I think this tension only heightens the overall feeling of foreboding that makes this such a creepy book. 

Now I'm actively seeking out some of Arthur's other books, namely Dragon Summer (1963), Requiem for a Princess (1967), and The Saracen Lamp (1970). And if there are any Arthur fans out there, your recommendations are most welcome! In the meantime, it's nice to add an author to my most-wanted list for the next book sale.

[Margery Gill's distinctive pen-and-ink illustrations for A Candle in Her Room (she illustrated many of Arthur's other books as well) do a lot to enliven the text. This one is of Melissa examining Dido as Briony looks on.]

National Book Awards longlist

The National Book Awards longlist for young people's literature was announced today (the collage of cover images above is from the National Book Foundation, whcih administers the prize). This is the first year that the National Book Awards are running longlists: the five finalists will be announced on October 16, and the winner on November 20. Here's the longlist (with links courtesy of the Daily Beast):

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
 by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell
A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
Two Boys Kissing
 by David Levithan
Far Far Away
 by Tom McNeal
Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff
The Real Boy
 by Anne Ursu, illustrated by Erin McGuire
Boxers and Saints
 by Gene Luen Yang

Of the ten finalists, I've read two (Far, Far Away and The Real Boy; reviews to follow) and actively avoided reading two others (which shall remain nameless). I've also added two to my to-read list, but the one I'm most looking forward to is Meg Rosoff's Picture Me Gone (Putnam Juvenile), available October 3.

I like having lists for the National Book Awards, whose criteria (unlike that of, say, the Newbery) aren't strictly defined; instead, they're "whatever [the judges, mostly writers] deem appropriate." I wonder what criteria this year's judges are using?

Waiting on Wednesday: The Watchers in the Shadows

I'm waiting on not one but two books titled The Watcher in the Shadows this spring. The Watcher in the Shadows by Chris Moriarty, which comes out May 28 from Harcourt Children's Books, is the sequel to The Inquisitor's Apprentice (2011), an alternate--magical--history set in early-twentieth century New York City. I liked The Inquisitor's Apprentice lots (we shortlisted it for the Cybils that year), especially the representation of immigrant Jewish culture, and the line illustrations by Mark Edward Geyer: it was sort of like a fantasy/boy version of All-of-a-Kind family. Which is to say, not at all like All-of-a-Kind family, but with line illustrations.

The other Watcher in the Shadows is by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, who is probably more familiar as the author of the bestselling adult novel The Shadow of the Wind (trans. by Lucia Graves; Penguin, 2004) and its sequels. This is more of a gothic middle grade or YA, the third in a thematic trilogy originally published in the 1990s, in Spanish. It's set in a toymaker's mansion on the coast of Normandy in the 1930s: of course I'm going to read it. I read the first, The Prince of Mist (Little, Brown BFYR, 2010), in a cottage on the coast of Maine, as close to on location as it is possible to be this side of the Atlantic. The Watcher in the Shadows comes out June 18, so I will probably have to read it on the Metro.

Post-Valentine's Day YA

So, I've been reading a little more YA lately--enough to make this list of YA novels that involve both a. kissing, and b. trips to Europe. What's not to love?

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith (Poppy, 2012). Hadley falls in love with Oliver on a flight from New York to London for her father's wedding. Aside (or not): Hadley is understandably upset about her father's remarriage. He was on fellowship at Oxford over a year ago--still married to Hadley's mom--when he fell in love with a much younger woman, whom Hadley has thus far refused to meet. Adult readers must try to overlook this. Anyway, after a cinematic kiss (see cover), Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other at Heathrow, but fate and second chances bring them back together (twice!) over the next 24 hours.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (Dutton, 2010). Anna is inexplicably reluctant to go to boarding school in Paris, where she will meet a cute French boy (she should know, because her father writes romance novels). This book is like having a whole box of macarons. In Paris.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton, 2012). Hazel and Augustus go to Amsterdam. Before one of them DIES.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman (Dutton). Just one day in Paris with a sexy Dutch guy you just met at an underground performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, followed by a year of heartache and a sequel (Willem's side of the story, Just One Year, will be out this fall). Note to future Milly: Don't even think about it.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick (Dial, 2012). Okay, this one is the opposite of Europe: almost everything happens, well, next door. But there is lots of kissing.