Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The captivating thing about Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle—or the two books of it that I've read—is the joy of discovery. The Raven Boys remains the best book I read in 2012, and one of the few books that I have read more than once. It's an adventure with your best friends, but it's also a beautiful puzzle box that unlocks if you take the time to examine it.

It is with no small sense of anticipation that I awaited the next installment, The Dream Thieves. Second books are tough, as authors some times go too big—they focus too much on expanding the world and it stretches the characters too thin. Some times authors serve up more of the same, and leave you wondering why characters who went through life-changing circumstances don't appear to have changed at all.

Some times authors give you everything you want—a balance of what remains the same because it was built in the first book, and a challenge to that status quo to create the conflict for the second book. What you found inside the first puzzle box is really a key that opens a chest full of secrets. Only The Dream Thieves isn't a chest; it's a treasure trove.

The story is told largely from the perspective of Ronan Lynch. Admittedly, as much as I appreciated his character and the role he had in the group dynamic of the first book, Ronan wasn’t my favourite Raven Boy. I didn’t identify with him as easily as I did with some of the other characters. (Gansey, Blue, and Adam.) So I was a little concerned about moving away from the much-loved perspectives of the first book and into what appeared to be uncharted darkness.

While multiple viewpoints are in The Dream Thieves—and used to give us new insights into characters we thought we knew—this book is very much about Ronan. And in being about Ronan, The Dream Thieves serves as a welcome excursion into the intangible dreamheart of Stiefvater’s world. Learning more about Ronan is getting lost in the woods to realize they’ve been planted to surround a homestead instead of create a boundary.

Love—painful, messy, angry love—for Ronan seeps every scene from his perspective. He is so obviously one of Stiefvater's favourites. Reading this book transforms Ronan by showing the reader why he is integral to Gansey’s life and the health and balance of the family by choice they have built. In walking with Ronan, seeing through his eyes and sharing his skin, his nature and behaviour becomes understandable. Relatable. Human.

The dark mirror of Ronan is the newly introduced Kavinsky. There’s a human being somewhere in all his gleeful awfulness—maybe. Possibly. He’s the only literary character in the past year that I have willfully hoped died in a fire yet found thoroughly entertaining because he’s so dedicated to being an antagonist. It’s impressive. In the worst possible way. (Oh, like Ronan in The Raven Boys, you say. No, Kavinsky is worse.)

That’s the magic of a talented author; she can make us understand and appreciate people who are night and day to us. Show it’s more like dusk and twilight. By the end of The Dream Thieves, I had an incredible respect for Ronan. I just wanted to give him a hug, and he's someone I previously wouldn't have touched without wearing a hazmat suit. (Maybe we would just fistbump. Like bros.) Honestly, by the end of the book I trusted Ronan more than Adam.

I don’t know how else to express what an incredibly successful second book in a series this is. It has kissing and racing and murder and the most interesting and relatable assassin in all of young adult literature. (I am fascinated by Mr. Grey. I'd read an entire series just about him, and I hope he plays a larger role in the next two books.) It is both creepy and laugh out loud delightful.

The Dream Thieves is about dreams and wants and desires and brothers and brotrayal and longings and fast cars and pain and acceptance. It’s about what happens to people who can have everything except the thing that really matters to them, and it shows all of the different ways that we deal or don’t deal with those feelings. It’s about wanting to be special and also just wanting to belong. It’s about family, and why we need it. Why we have to actively create family, because sometimes the one we're born with isn't enough.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Make Good

Neil Gaiman was in town on Tuesday, and there are many accounts of his visit floating around the interwebs. I loved Adam Carter's about why he didn't stay for the signing. He has Spider-Man with a camera as his Twitter cover image and is therefore COOL. I also love Christie from Bibliophiliacs post about being Neil's penwoman for the event. Because table-side perspective allows her to give everyone the reason for why this signing tour had to be the last.

It's always a joy to see someone whose work has had such an impact on me, listen to him read stories as only he can, and share a moment—be it an introduction over The Graveyard Book, giving him a book for All Hallows Read at WFC in San Diego, or saying hello on behalf of a mutual acquaintance. Please note my guilty sense of privilege here, as our paths have crossed a number of times. I wouldn't expect him to remember. He doesn't need to, so long as I remember them.

That's part of why I almost didn't go on Tuesday. The larger reason being that I had had a defeating, exhausting day. Really, I wanted to go home and curl up in a ball and not talk or have anyone asking me for things. Because I have nothing left to give. Just dust and fumes.

My boss left work to pursue an amazing opportunity at the beginning of July. I am incredibly happy for her, but it hasn't been easy for me. We'd worked together for three years. There's a silence to my work-life that my voice alone can't fill. My coworkers are doing whatever they can to help, but there are things that only I can do, and if I don't do them then they don't get done.

When you are thigh-deep in impossible, it becomes so easy to lose sight of everything else. You fixate on tiny things, on what's right in front of you, because it's what seems manageable. If you think of the scope of it all too much, you freeze. You shut down. And you can't, because you are the only one who can do those things that need doing. (Maybe you aren't, but it feels like you are.)

I had bought my friend Jenn a ticket to the Neil At Indigo event for her birthday. I'd also promised Amanda Sun to get a book signed for her. (She was at BEA, but had a signing at the Harlequin booth the same time as Neil's talk. For his Toronto event, she had to be in Calgary to do one of her own.) At coffee with Amy McCulloch, who listened when I really needed someone to, she said to tell Neil hello from her. And I promised I would.

And that's three reasons why I did go to the event. Another being Chelsey, who invited me to write the Indigo Blog review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane with her. She made sure I left work on time, ate before the event, and remembered to be excited. Unfortunately, we didn't get to sit together because it was reserved seating and we'd bought tickets at different times. But we texted a few times to keep track of each other.

It was a great event. Neil read, and he answered questions, and he was generally wonderful. I livetweeted so that people who weren't there could share in the experience a little bit. And I forgot how awful my day had been and how difficult my month had been.

So when I got up to Neil, I told him hello from Amy. (I hope you have a chance to meet her one day, if you haven't, because she is a wonderful person.) Then I thanked him for retweeting our Indigo review. Because I couldn't say "thank you for being one of the people who taught me how to do my job well and writing things that inspire me to keep doing it even when it feels impossible." You can't put that weight on a stranger, not when you've already taken more than your thirty seconds of his time and there are 1000 other people waiting for theirs.

While the crowd was waiting for rows to be called up to join the signing line, a Twitter follower of @IndigoTeenBlog came over to say hello and thank me for a book she'd won via a giveaway. (Her account of the signing is here. It was her first author event.) This is the thing about Neil's events that we don't talk about—yes, he has had tremendous impact on creative people. We Make Good Art because he reminds us to, but we don't talk about the less visible kindness entanglement he creates. When he indulges someone for a moment, gives that bit of kindness, that person goes out and spreads it to others.

And if we're really, really lucky we get to give it back to him. Maybe as reassurance that a book he wrote is good enough to be read twice before it's been released. More often we get to give those moments to others. We practice the art of kindness. We make good.