Part 1 of #storycontinues is complete with preliminary edits. It is available here. Part 2 will begin posting later this week.
Sophia licked her lips. There was something magical about Mary Mae’s cooking, she was sure of it. No one else could do the things with flour and water their cook could.
Such as honeycakes. Sophia spotted them on the cake platter under a glass dome and licked her lips. Two minutes later she’d pushed a chair up the counter and pulled a tea towels from the nearby stack.
Really, it was all terribly convenient. She counted the honeycakes carefully, then chose three of the smallest and wrapped them in the towel. The rest she rearranged to make it look like none had been taken. Hopping down, she tugged the chair back where it belonged and opened the door to the back stairs, honeycakes in hand.
It was beyond ridiculous. Especially since this route, down the stairs and under the table, had been her idea. It was simple, so ridiculously simple, so obvious, she’d told the boys, that no one would ever think to look there.
And here she was, almost ruining her own plan. It was too much to bear.
Sophia breathed a soft sigh and slipped through into the dining room. Any other night she might stop to look at the silver tea set displayed on the sideboard and only used on holidays, but tonight she was too focused to bother. The door to the butler’s pantry was ajar, so it was hardly any trouble to slip through and into the kitchen.
Almost immediately she stopped and inhaled. Supper was hours over but the smell of Mary Mae’s chicken and biscuits still lingered.
The genre of fiction broadly title Young Adult has changed tremendously since I was one of its target readers. It’s edgier, more realistic even when fantastic, and a lot bleaker. Dystopian novels existed, but few were geared specifically at the 10-16 age range.
Arthur Slade’s award-winning Dust is one of those great new YA stories. At first I hesitated to call it a novel; surely, I thought, this is a novella. Then I realised that I was comparing its length to novels written for adults and adjusted my paradigm accordingly.
In the end, though, what it’s called doesn’t matter. It’s a good story. Even the synopsis pulls you in:
Imagine a depression-era town where it hasn’t rained for years. A pale rainmaker with other-worldly eyes brings rain to the countryside and mesmerizes the townspeople, but the children begin to disappear one by one. Only young Robert Steelgate is able to resist the rainmaker’s spell and begin the struggle to discover what has happened to his missing brother and the other children.
As good as the hook is, the catch is even better. Dust grabs you from the beginning and keeps your attention all the way through. That said, this is not a story filled with action and adventure in the traditional sense. Rather it’s the building suspense, the anticipation, the not knowing what’s going to happen on the next page, that keeps you reading — and the climactic scene, when it comes, is all the more visceral and heartbreaking for it.
The physical landscape also has its role. Slade’s evocative use of the Canadian prairie, a place he knows very well, makes the scenes come alive in a way that’s missing in a lot of fiction today. He believes in “show, not tell”; when Robert observes that the tumbleweeds aren’t tumbling, even people who have never seen the prairie understand what’s going on.
The characterisations in Dust are first-rate, too. Robert’s evolution from not-quite-child to budding young adult is very well done indeed. Given that the tale is told from his point of view, it’s inevitable that there are things we do not know, question that remain unanswered, about the other characters. But that’s okay, because through Robert we learn all we really need to know; Slade could have given us more insight into the other characters, but this story would’ve been the less for it.
This novel is magical realism at its best, turning the humdrum, everyday world around us on its ear — and sometimes into something else. Stephen King and Ray Bradbury can be proud.
[Bookish Note: 60 Second Reviews are not written in 60 seconds; they’re not really designed to be read in 60 seconds either, although they probably could be. They are called so because they short and to the point. It’s all about getting down to brass tacks, really.]
After a lamentable absence, a return to writing, and I’ll start with a #storycontinues roundup from the end of 2011. The following was tweeted, but never found its way here.
That oversight is now corrected.
Confused? Click on the #storycontinues link above to read the story from its beginning. Story tweets will resume 23 April 2012.
Nothing moved that she could see, but then she couldn’t see all that much in the dark. What had seemed somewhat light, if shadowy, from the stairs was darker at ground level. The light from the parlor didn’t reach all the way to the table and the moonlight from the glass windows flanking the front door was weaker than expected for a full moon night.
She would have to rely on her ears, not her eyes, before making the next move.
There were no footsteps, no voices any closer than they had been. Had her sneeze really gone unheard?
It appeared so. To be safe though, she ducked back under the table and counted to three hundred three more times. This had been close, too close. It was getting harder and harder to sneak about, but there was no time to worry. She had to go, now, while she safely could, but she had to do so carefully.
When all was silent she slipped out from under the table, wincing at the sound of her bare feet on the tile.
“Next time, slippers,” she half-whispered to herself, wincing, again, at the sound of her voice.
She really was doing terribly tonight, but then this detour was unplanned. Not that it should matter, she told herself ruthlessly. She and the boys had planned for things like this — acted out how to get away, where to hide, how long to count, everything — and here she almost got caught.
It just figured — no, she mustn’t think about the dust or she’d sneeze. Then Mama and Uncle Peter or the Great Auntie would hear and she’d be in trouble.
The floor, the floor, think about the floor. Though she had done this several times in the past, she was still surprised at how cold and hard the tile floor was on her bare legs.
She slapped a hand over her mouth in shock. Had anyone heard?
Sophia sucked in a quick, quiet breath and waited, heart pounding ferociously in her ears as she counted slowly in her head. After three counts of three hundred, when she could hear clearly again, she risked a peek out from under the tablecloth.