Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Dr. Dan's Elixir
Potent Magic for Young Minds
    by Dan Shade
September 2007

The Nine Lives of Chloe King by Celia Thomson
Simon Pulse, Copyright © 2004
250 pages, $6.99 Soft cover
Age Group: 14 up
3 out of 5 Stars -- I liked it

Chloe falls 200 feet from an observation tower in San Francisco. She should have died but she walked away. From that point on things began to change in Chloe's life. Never one of the in crowd, she and her two friends, Amy and Paul, lived on the edge of the schoolyard. They had always been a tight group, which protected them from the jibes of the popular kids. Two things change the dynamics of this group. Chloe's fall from the tower and Amy and Paul's newfound love for each other. These two items create the tensions in this book that need to be resolved.

From the moment Chloe walks away from that deadly fall she begins to change. First we witness a change in her self-confidence. She begins to flirt and talk with the cutest boys in school or customers at the store where she works. This is so unlike Chloe that it frightens even her. Then comes the discovery of speed -- she can run with the velocity and agility of a cat (the big cats, not house cats), her simple self-defense classes evolve into a Jackie Chan kick-a-like and her senses become more exact. She can smell subtle odors and hear conversations a great deal away. Chloe wonders what she's becoming but she's having so much fun (such as running home from work at full speed) with these abilities that she doesn't give much thought to the situation at first.

Soon she gets a glimpse of another cat-person on a nearby rooftop as she is leaping from house to house on her way home. The sight of this other roof-commuter is comforting but not very informational. He remains a mystery until the end of the book.

This main plot regarding the metamorphosis from human to something more cat-like is very interesting and what made the book memorable to me. The secondary plot regarding growing up and teenage angst wasn't as profound to me. I can see where that subplot is important to helping teenagers relate to the book (it usually helps me). Look at all the changes, physical and social, young adults are making and add to that the transformation from human to cat and things become really interesting. However, it's what Ms. Thomson shows as normal behaviors for teenagers that bothered me about the book.

Call me a prude, call me conservative, but this book teaches values with which I am not comfortable. Yes, many teenagers make the transition from kissing to intercourse quite quickly. But that doesn't mean it's healthy or good for all teenagers or should be an expectation. Parents might as well hand out condoms as their young adult children march off to school each morning. Intercourse is inevitable so why fight it? In all fairness to the author, Chloe never has sex, but she and her friend sure discuss it time and again with the most common theme being that intercourse should occur while you are sixteen.

I'm reminded of a friend's daughter. She was the top track and field star in North Carolina. When the game schedule came out, most of the meets were on Sunday. Without input from her parents, Amanda told her coach she would be quitting track because she wouldn't run on Sunday. One girl changed the entire play schedule of North Carolina. I tell this story because it exemplifies how one teen can make such a huge difference when he/she doesn't follow the crowd. If Ms. Thomson wants to teach us about teenagers facing life, let her use the examples of those teens who do not follow the herd and rather stand on their own two feet. As Rocky Balboa said to his son in the movie of the same name, "What's wrong with putting your toes to the line and saying I am?" What we need are more books where young adults defy the peer group and become something unique. After all, isn't that what we want for our children? Isn't that what the outstanding young adults have done? Isn't that what young adults really want themselves?

Also, the book had a little of what I call the "Buffy complex." Much of what Chloe becomes is presented in a "Buffy the Vampire Killer" style of the TV show. I kept thinking, is this Buffy the Rat Killer? There are times when the book had all the believability of Sarah Michelle Geller kickboxing a vampire ten times as strong as she to his death. This Buffy-like quality resulted in the book having little depth. Reach past the story and your hand closes on air.

Dancing With An Alien by Mary Logue
HarperCollins, Copyright © 2000
130 pages, $14.95 Hardcover
Age Group: 14 up
3 out of 5 Stars -- I liked it

This is an interesting story that certainly qualifies as science fiction in a world of fantasy. It appears that Branko's planet has suffered a catastrophe of huge proportion. All of the women have died marking his people for extinction. Branko comes to earth seeking a bride he may take home. He is not the first nor will he be the last to do this.

Branko meets Tonia -- a tall, willowy, brunette sixteen-year-old -- when she saves him from drowning. She begins giving him swimming lessons and their relationship grows from this point on. Her best friend Beatrice is also experiencing her first boyfriend. Together they compare notes to be sure their relationships are headed in the right direction to achieve lovemaking. The checklist is detailed and Beatrice's boyfriend says that he is so happy with what is happening now that he can wait for what the girls call "slow dancing." Branko can't wait but is seems that Tonia is of the same mind.

Tonia and Branko's relationship grows at light speed. For all of his awkwardness born of being not only in a different culture but also from a different planet, Branko is the perfect boyfriend. He is totally devoted, pays explicit attention to every word, finds kissing and touching more wonderful than swimming (not possible on his planet) and does not know what he would do without Tonia. When she is grounded a few days before he must return home, he is devastated but no more so than Tonia. To Branko touching is better than Dutch Apple Pie (Starman -- the movie).

Finally Branko, secure in the love he and Tonia have for each other, asks Tonia if she will go back to his planet with him, be his wife and have children. After little thought she agrees to go. In the end Branko leaves without her because he loves her too much to subject her to the horrors of his planet. This means he will go home in disgrace, but he cannot let her become a baby machine. This is a sweet story of simple, pure love. Branko may be the most genuine lover the literature world will ever know.

Call me a dud, call me a dad, call me a crab, but my only complaint with this book is that we have another author who feels it is her place to teach young adults when the time is right to have sex; a topic better left taught in the home. Age sixteen seems to be the targeted period by Ms. Logue. Nope, there is no explicit sex. We learn merely that Tonia and Branko make love on a particular night. It's Tonia's age that is stressed as the appropriate time. This is revealed in conversations with Tonia's best friend Beatrice. Tonia and Branko go skinny dipping on their second date. And it was Tonia's idea, for crying out loud. I like my young adult literature without subplots regarding when to have intercourse. Teenage angst already contains plenty of topics regarding human sexuality that teens must deal with for the first time and would be appropriate topics for inclusion in novels.

Copies of Dancing With An Alien can be purchased from the sources below:

New from Books-A-Million (bamm.com) for $13.72

Used from Amazon.com starting at $1.54

Used from Barnes's & Noble (barnesandnoble.com) starting at $1.99


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