The Gracekeepers: A Haiku Review…

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Welcome to another haiku review. It’s Mad Martha with you today with a book that was received from the publisher via Netgalley and features a beautifully described world (of the future? Possibly) in which water has changed the shape of the earth. It is The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, sending the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance. In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives–offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future.

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Buried in the depths

Like the wreckage of worlds past

Lies the way back home

Although this book is set in a speculative future world (maybe), I want to describe it as literary fiction. The Gracekeepers is character-driven and relationship-heavy and when you get to the end, you may be left wondering what on earth just happened – or rather, what didn’t. This is one of those books where action is secondary to the exploration of the characters, their back stories and hopes for the future. While some may find this to be not their cup of tea, I was quite engaged throughout the whole story, mostly, I think, due to the excellent world-building that Logan has done here.

The basic set-up of the world is pretty simple – water has subsumed most of the land and left humans with the choice of living as farmers and gatherers in settlements or spending their life on the high seas. There is a certain animosity, or at best, distrust between the landlockers and the damplings, with damplings facing mild discrimination when on or near the land. Damplings must wear bells on their shoes, for instance, when on the land to denote their dampling status. Similarly, with land at a premium, damplings are not allowed to bury their dead on the land, but must take their deceased to a graceyard to be tended to by a Gracekeeper.

The rituals around death described in the graceyards were fascinating and imaginative and one of my favourite parts of the story was our introduction to Callanish and her solitary life, surrounded by dead, dying, or soon-to-be dying birds. The story is told in alternating points of view between Callanish and North and I appreciated the regular change of pace between the quiet reverie of Callanish and the busier experience of North and the circus.

I don’t think this book is going to be for everyone, because I did have a very strong sense of “Well that was nice – now what’s next?” on finishing. I really did feel engaged while I was reading the story but afterwards I wasn’t sure what I could take from it. If you enjoy books that are character-driven and feature strong, original world-building then I would encourage you to pick up The Gracekeepers, but be aware that it’s not a book with a pat message or typical plot piece.

Until we meet again, may all your birds be free from mourning responsibilities,

Mad Martha

A YA (ish) Read-it-if Review: Hyacinth Girls…

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Welcome to a Read-it-if review for a book that has been on my Netgalley shelf for months and months and months that I’ve only just managed to get to.  Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel, like The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, is one that I put off and put off because its publication date was so far off, only to find that I should have picked it up sooner because it is well worth chatting about.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Thirteen year old Callie is accused of bullying at school, but Rebecca knows the gentle girl she’s raised must be innocent. After Callie is exonerated, she begins to receive threatening notes from the girl who accused her, and as these notes become desperate, Rebecca feels compelled to intervene. As she tries to save this unbalanced girl, Rebecca remembers her own intense betrayals and best-friendships as a teenager, when her failure to understand those closest to her led to tragedy. She’ll do anything to make this story end differently. But Rebecca doesn’t understand what’s happening or who is truly a victim, and now Callie is in terrible danger.

This raw and beautiful story about the intensity of adolescent emotions and the complex identity of a teenage girl looks unflinchingly at how cruelty exists in all of us, and how our worst impulses can estrange us from ourselves – or even save us.

hyacinth girls

Read it if:

*you’ve ever been given a demeaning nickname

*you like adult fiction that is cleverly disguised as young adult fiction

*you’ve been clamouring for a book featuring young people and bullying, in which the characters are more than stereotypical, paper-thin, mean girls, and the adults have backstories too

Right off the bat, I have to acknowledge how unexpectedly noteworthy I found this story to be. When I flicked back to the blurb and found out that this was a “teen bullying” story I was preparing myself for the run-of-the-mill, mean girls scenario with cliques and rich bitches and everything we’ve seen before in a thousand movies and books. While the blurb gives the indication that this is a YA book, I think that this is actually properly realised adult fiction that features young characters and bullying, but focuses on deeper explorations of the characters, their motivations and relationships. [Interjection: Yes, I realise YA is “proper fiction” too, so no need to send the hate mail just yet]. I suspect that adult readers will get just as much out of this, if not more, than their teenaged counterparts and that is the mark of a good book all-round.

Hyacinth Girls is told in alternating points of view, beginning with that of Rebecca, who has become the guardian of teenager Callie after her mother, Joyce (Rebecca’s childhood best friend), was killed in an accident and her father committed suicide. The early parts of the story focus on Rebecca’s shock and denial when informed that Callie has been involved in serious bullying of a classmate. The story moves back and forth between the present day, as Rebecca tries her darnedest to clear Callie’s name, and Rebecca’s childhood with Joyce, her older cousin and his girlfriend.

About halfway through the book, the story switches to Callie’s point of view and the reader becomes privy to the “other side of the story” as it were. It isn’t too hard to see that Rebecca suffers from a sort of functional blindness toward Callie’s alleged behaviour and sharp readers will be pleased to note that their suspicions are confirmed in Callie’s telling of the story. Toward the end of the book, the perspectives change again as events come to a head and secrets and lies come back to haunt all the characters.

What I most appreciated about this story is that the characters are all deeply fleshed out. Each character has flaws and a back story and motives that are understandable and familiar, but not stereotypical. The book really explores the concepts of error and redemption through characters who are judged outwardly by their actions and characters for whom the judgement (and damnation) is self-wrought and internal. Hyacinth Girls manages to set itself apart from the crowd of “seen-it-all-before” books on bullying to really explore the people who engage in it, the people who fight against it and the people who unwittingly support it. I particularly appreciated the realistic fallout (or lack thereof) at the very end of the book, when the reader gets to reflect on the tumultuous events of the story and their impact on the lives of the characters in the context of a wider society of those who don’t have a personal stake in the lives of these particular young people.

Overall I think that aside from being a “bullying” book, Hyacinth Girls is just a really absorbing read.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

May I Suggest Giveaway Hop!

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Welcome to my spot on the May I Suggest Giveaway Hop hosted by Stuck in Books and running from May 3rd to May 16th. I have a soft spot for this hop because it runs so close to my birthday, so I can’t resist joining in the fun. The theme of the hop is books that are amazing or fantastic or ones that you would recommend to others.

To that end, I am offering one winner a random book from my Goodreads favourites shelf. The winner can choose the genre/age range that they’d prefer, then I’ll select a book that I think fits and send it on its merry way to be enjoyed by another. The giveaway is open internationally provided the Book Depository ships to your country for free. Other Ts & Cs are in the Rafflecopter form.

I haven’t required a follow for entry this time around, opting for a more giggle-based requirement, but follows and likes across any of our platforms are always welcome!

To enter, click on the rafflecopter link below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This is a hop, so don’t forget to scoot around to the other participating blogs and try your hand at bagging some loot!

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Good luck,

Bruce