Panelists: Rachel Manija Brown, Cora Anderson, Janni Lee Simner

Please forgive or correct any errors made in these notes. They were typed quickly and in shorthand, and I made them legible and comprehensible as best I could. But they are not 100% complete or accurate.

R: What was your introduction to the idea of companion animals?

J: Pern! And imaginary friends when I was growing up

C: The She-ra horse! When I was six, I had an imaginary friend who was a winged unicorn named Starlight with a rainbow mane, who could turn invisible and go to school with me. Oh, and Pern also.

R: Dragonsong I used to think up lists of names ending in -th. I mostly had blue and green dragons - the sidekick dragons. I always liked the sidekick characters. Also, I used to tame wild animals when I was a kid. You can tame a feral cat in about six months, if you’re patient.

R: What is the appeal of a companion animal (telepathic or not)?

R: I was obsessed with animals, and you get into an emphatic empathic communion when you sit for hours with feral cats. Telepathy goes right to the heart of that. Also, there’s a powerful draw in the idea of a creature that can understand you perfectly. At least, there is when you’re as a kid.

C: There’s something about creatures that not only understand you but love you regardless. Pern dragons never say 'fuck this noise, I'm outta here,' no matter what you do). McCaffrey has said Pern is inspired by the feeling, as a five-year-old, of getting a pet. You want the pet to be a perfect friend, and it just wants to be a cat. It's what you want from a childhood pet, then a boy/girlfriend, that you can’t have. It’s the wish fulfillment that something can understand you completely.

J: As an outcast child with no close friends until later, imaginary friends always were there for you and also wanted to do what you wanted. Best friend + subservience.

R: Should we jump into subservience?

C: The Heralds of Valdemar. In those, the Companion will in fact repudiate you and leave. The Pernese bond is unbreakable. In other ones, the animals don't have human morality. The Companions are metaphors for guardian angels; they won't condone serial killers. It’s a different type of relationship.

R: Don't forget they are sparkly magic white horses.

C: It’s the dream of a horse, not a real horse.

J: When I first rode a horse, I was disappointed. They weren't flying!

R: Judith Tarr said Anne McCaffrey based dragon Impression on watching humans with young horses. Of course a real horse is much more rebellious.

C: And can't talk.

J: But then you can believe they understand you perfectly. If they can’t talk they can’t contradict that feeling.

R: Going back to the idea of companions as metaphors for other relationships…

J: Childhood wish fulfillment animals. I get much less interested when it becomes metaphors for adult relationships, but fiction seems more interested in that.

R: Romantic relationship with everything but the sex... and sometimes they do include sex, hopefully not with the animal. The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik has dragons in the Napoleonic wars. Those dragon-human relationships are very much like a good marriage, complete with falling outs, but if the humans have sex, it doesn’t affect the dragons, and vice versa.

C: I've read the first book - that's the one where the relationship is seriously romantic. Another rider treats his dragon as an aircraft, and the dragon just wants to be loved. The rider gives it more baubles and thinks that’s all it needs. It’s classic unrequited love, complete with pining.

J: Most bondings happen with adolescence. It’s a stand in for coming of age/romance.

R: Before the panel we were talking about Ariel, by Stephen Boyett. It’s maybe not that good of a book objectively, but it’s interesting. The hero is a teenage boy in a post-apocalyptic world where technology has been replaced by magic. He bonded with his unicorn when he was twelve, when the book starts he’s nineteen. The virgin mythology is real. They fight sometimes. It’s definitely a romantic relationship. But he can't have sex with anyone, woes. At the end he does, and the unicorn leaves. It’s clear that unicorns are better than sex.

C: And then there's Pern, where you have to have sex. [Audience indicates that they’ve almost all read Pern.] When the dragons do it, so do you. NO EXCEPTIONS!

J: You are forced to the dragon’s schedule. How do they feel when the humans are still at it?

R: The Pern books actually mention that. I think it was meant as id wish fulfillment, but it comes across as problematic, McCaffery used just enough realism that it seems creepy.

C: She's said in interviews that these are not romantic relationship, but in the books, the dragon’s partners are almost always the humans’ partners. So, you start getting sex = love. It makes the concept of choice more problematic.

J: Also one-sided.

R: Pern has very contradictory canon. The dragons are color-coded by gender. Green dragons are always ridden by men, and they’re always female. The only dragons with female riders are gold, and they’re extremely rare. So most dragon-mating would also involve men having sex with men. But it took 10 books for McCaffrey to be explicit about that.

C: I totally didn't notice that when I was nine.

R: I think the dragon mating is meant to be the wish-fulfillment of being utterly swept away by passion. It’s an appealing fantasy, but the execution highlights the creepy aspects: rape is love

C: There’ve been thousands of discussions about this. There’s the 70s trend of romance novels that start with rape. One theory is that in society where it's not OK for women to want to have sex, it's an out so that you don't feel like a “slut.” [Sarcasm scare quotes.] It can be a safety net if you don't own your own desire. Is the dragon mating flight the same thing? “It wasn't me, it was the dragon!”

R: Animals are close to nature, so it may also be the romanticized idea of that. You don’t have to worry about social restrictions. Let’s just all bone!

J: Do any books go the other way? Where the animals and people have to discuss whether they want to have sex?

C: Arrows of the Queen, sort of. A girl is bonded to stallion. Sex is not stigmatized and they are not compelled to have sex when the other, but they can tell. “Could you warn me next time? I'm in the middle of something, and then really?” They negotiate the timing.

R: The C. J. Cherryh Finisterre novels. (Rider at the Gate) We should discuss these more when we get to parodies and dark takes. On this planet, animal life is telepathic and empathic, and can overwhelm humans. Certain people can bond with night horses and put up mental shields. Sex transmits both ways. But it’s not overpowering, you can go with it or not. There’s one scene where the rider wants sex, and the horse is bored.

C: If your companion animal is comparable intelligence to you, what does it mean that the human is the decider?

J: Except in Valdemar.

C: It’s not always the case, but most often. Dragons have no choice in Pern. They have to do what they are told to do, no exceptions.

J: A Swiftly Tilting Planet. There’s a flying unicorn and a boy; neither are making solo decisions.

Audience: In Pern they are bonded, but choices are built into the environment

C: In Temeraire, dragons are human-level smart but subservient. Later in the series they start trying to get voting rights.

R: In other parts of that world dragons are equal to humans, or even superior.

R: Wolf companions are interesting because authors tend to use older research that turned out to be incorrect. The concept of the alpha wolf comes from wolf behavior in zoos. In the wild, the wolf pack is actually a family: a breeding male, a breeding female and pups. It’s not about constant fighting for dominance or rape.

J: A happy family of wolves. I want to read that.

C: Ya'll can talk about sex, I'm talking about Jhereg. It’s got a snarky flying lizard. AND IT’S AWESOME. It’s extraordinarily loyal, but will tell you that you're stupid. It’s much more realistic, like real friends. Not a creepy “I love you forever and everything you do is awesome.”

J: So you need your perfect friend companion, and your companion who will give you advice and call you out.

A: Sabriel: Mogget and the Destructible Disreputable Dog.

R: A kind of subversive version is Diana Wynne Jones’ Dogsbody. Who is whose companion? Sirius the Dog Star is a powerful being in the form of a tiny dog. It’s told from dog’s point of view, and the girl is actually called a “companion.”

C: Other books where the animal is the POV character?

J: Maybe the Valdemar short stories?

A: The Princess and the Bear

A: Traveller (Not fantasy.)

C: Does the bond need to be magical? I was explaining to my mother-in-law what I was doing at Sirens and since she doesn’t read fantasy, I explained what a bond animal was. She is blind and has a guide dog, and asked whether her guide dog was a ‘bond animal.’

J: Even in fiction it’s not always a magical bond, now that you mention it.

R: Sure. Pern is what first comes to mind, but Robin McKinley is next. She has very emotional relationships with non-magical bonded animals. She also has service animals. If you look at Deerskin and The Hero and the Crown, there are points where the heroine is badly wounded or sick, and her horse or dog acts as her service animal.

J: In Tamora Pierce’s books, everyone ends up with animals. They’re not always magical.

Audience: Have you read the Mountain's Call series by Judith Tarr, with the horses? (The Mountain's Call; under a pseudonym.) I loved Pern, but not so much for the sex issues. I read Valdemar, but the companions a bit too much – it’s a great relationship if you fall in line. In Tarr’s series, she really nailed the perfect horse relationship. No one is in charge. There are Gods in horses bodies, but they act like horses.

J: Tarr has a YA book, House of the Star, with magical horses. [Under a pseudonym.] The protagonist asks the horses why they need humans. The horse says humans can think around corners.

Audience: No one was better than anyone else. No subservience.

J: You get something bigger than the sum of either.

C: Question time!

Audience: Friendships vs. Partnership? Dealing with Dragons books.

R: I didn't think of those because I would think of them more as two characters, not an animal companion.

C: In those, the human is the companion animal.

Audience: Back to sex! There are books with deep romantic but non-sexual bonds with animals. Everyone avoided using the word asexual. Is that conscious, that the human is in an asexual relationship? Or is it just bestiality avoidance?

C: In most examples the characters do have sex, just not with each other. I hadn’t considered the idea of bond animals as asexual relationship. That’s a good thing to think about.

R: Yeah, it’s interesting. I didn’t think of it because the partners are usually sexual, but with others.

J: That would be a good opportunity for exploration.

A: It could be a model of an asexual partnership.

A: Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes, is a book where you only get a companion animal if you were bad. If people saw it, they knew you did something wrong.

R: We didn't get a chance to talk about it, but there’s a little subgenre where the animal companion is a part of you, a manifestation of your soul. Zoo City actually had a little take on The Golden Compass included as a fake academic paper.

Audience: There’s the Firekeeper series. (Wolf Captured (Firekeeper)) Would that count as companion animals? Girl raised by wolves. She can't remember who she is. One of the wolves is her best friend. They even have thoughts of 'if we were the same species, we'd be together' but it's not weird. They can speak, but not telepathically; the way wolves speak. Is that a companion animal?

J: Raised by wolves is a trope on its own.

Audience: She thinks of herself as a wolf. When she’s found by humans, she insists she is a wolf. Her relationship with the wolf does become romantic but not sexually. It’s an example of a romantic asexual relationship.

J: There’s a wide range of ways of dealing with this. It hasn't been explored enough.

R: If ya'll go write it, there are lots of places to explore.

J: The animals are always the good guys.

R: No! If you want to see evil companion animals, read Sheri Tepper’s Grass. The companion horse are evil aliens. The Cherryh books I mentioned earlier have a parody of the special girl with a special bond. It doesn't go very well.

Audience: Recommends Yuletide fics that were dark interpretations of Valdemar.
Cover copy: Rage Winnoway’s closest friends have always been her four dogs: Bear, Billy Thunder, Elle, and Mr. Walker. When Rage sets off for the hospital where her mother lies in a coma, the dogs and the neighbor’s goat tag along. On the way, they run into the firecat, who talks them into going through a magical gate. And something wonderful happens! Each of Rage’s friends is transformed. Bear becomes a real bear; Billy Thunder, a teenage boy; Elle, a warrior woman; Mr. Walker, a small, large-eared gentleman; and the goat, a satyr with an inferiority complex. Together, Rage and her companions embark on a quest to save the world of Valley, a journey that is somehow tied to Rage’s family.

I love this premise. I am a total sucker for any sort of "let's establish these characters; now let's see what happens if you make a huge change to something very basic about them." I also really like shapeshifters other than cliche versions of werewolves. So the dogs-become-humans thing? All over it.

The execution is sort of there and sort of not. We get just enough of the animals as animals to see how their altered versions match their animal personalities. But it's a comparatively short children's book with a comparatively large cast, so no one gets as much development as they needed for the whole thing to be amazing. And the plot is very standard old-fashioned quest fantasy in which the heroine gets directed to gather plot coupons.

In between plot points, Carmody was doing some quite ambitious things, such as paralleling the broken relationship between the mother and son dogs (now a bear and a boy) with Rage's relationship with her mother, AND her mother's relationship with her family. Lots of deep issues of love, trust, attachment, and abandonment... but not dealt with in a very deep way. The age level and genre tropes fought the more sophisticated and interesting elements, and what was left was a book that promised more than it delivered.

(Rage, by the way, is short for "Rebecca Jane." I would find this more convincing if a) she had chosen it herself, b) she had any rage.)

The part that fascinated me the most was the incipient sexual tension between Rage and Billy Thunder, her beloved dog who is now a boy her own age, who loves her unconditionally and will say so. He's also described in a quite sensual manner. AND HE'S A DOG. None of this is ever explicitly thought of by Rage, but it is written in a way which I am pretty sure is meant to make the reader think it. But nothing comes of it.

SPOILERS answer your burning questions: does Billy Thunder go back to being a dog? Do any dogs die?

Read more... )

There is a sequel and a promised third, which may or may not materialize. Has anyone read any of Carmody's other books? I feel like she'd probably be more successful writing to an even slightly older audience, like at a YA level.

Night Gate: The Gateway Trilogy Book One
Dean Koontz writes thrillers, some involving science fiction or fantasy, some just bad guys chasing people, with excessively wholesome protagonists, hilariously evil villains, and cute kids and pets. They are very good airplane reading.

I read a bunch of Dean Koontz novels in high school, and then two things happened simultaneously: my tastes matured, and he decided that rather than merely sneaking lectures into his thrillers (sneaking in the sense that a child banned from an area stealthily returns hidden under a blanket, but nevertheless) he should devote entire pages to discussions of What Is Wrong With America (not enough "traditional values.") Also, his prose kind of sucks.

What's good about Koontz, in less-lecture mode: He is really, really readable. REALLY REALLY READABLE. I found this book at my parents' place the other day, idly decided to read a chapter before bedtime, and could not put the damn thing down until I had finished it, even though I had to get up at 6:00 AM the next day and I didn't finish it until past midnight. Part of this is that his premises are often quite genuinely cool, though his ability to follow through on them varies.

The Bad Place opens with an amnesiac man waking up with a bag full of hundred dollar bills and a handful of black sand clenched in his fist. Some spooky guy starts chasing him and firing off blasts of blue energy rays, the amnesiac guy finds that he knows how to hot-wire a car and uses that to flee. He checks into a motel, shaken and confused, and wakes up the next morning, still amnesiac, covered in blood that isn't his and with an alien bug crawling around on his chest!

I am a total sucker for that sort of premise. Especially when it revealed that he is amnesiacally teleporting in his sleep, a process which is screwing with his memories, and that he comes from a family of completely bonkers evil psychics.

Unfortunately, the book focuses less on him and more on the overly cutesy married PIs he hires to investigate his life, and the teleporting is more of a plot device than what the story is about. It never really explains what was up with the alien world he teleports to, either. Very strong first third, increasingly incoherent second two-thirds. Warning for MASSIVE INSECT SQUICK - if you thought the teleportation accident in The Fly was gross, this is about a billion times grosser. And the "horrifying backstory" was kind of hilarious, featuring generational incest culminating in a "hermaphrodite" who inseminated hirself with hir own sperm to produce freaky psychic kids!

Still, it did give me rather fond memories of what I recall as being more coherent Koontz novels. My favorite in high school was Watchers, which has a sweet romance and a super-intelligent genetically engineered golden retriever. I also remember liking Lightning, which had a complicated and twisty time-travel plot, and Hideaway, the latter mostly because I liked the relationship between the main couple and the little girl they adopt. Be aware that pretty much all Koontz novels contain sadistic villains and conservative political lecturing.

The Bad Place

Watchers

Lightning
Dean Koontz writes thrillers, some involving science fiction or fantasy, some just bad guys chasing people, with excessively wholesome protagonists, hilariously evil villains, and cute kids and pets. They are very good airplane reading.

I read a bunch of Dean Koontz novels in high school, and then two things happened simultaneously: my tastes matured, and he decided that rather than merely sneaking lectures into his thrillers (sneaking in the sense that a child banned from an area stealthily returns hidden under a blanket, but nevertheless) he should devote entire pages to discussions of What Is Wrong With America (not enough "traditional values.") Also, his prose kind of sucks.

What's good about Koontz, in less-lecture mode: He is really, really readable. REALLY REALLY READABLE. I found this book at my parents' place the other day, idly decided to read a chapter before bedtime, and could not put the damn thing down until I had finished it, even though I had to get up at 6:00 AM the next day and I didn't finish it until past midnight. Part of this is that his premises are often quite genuinely cool, though his ability to follow through on them varies.

The Bad Place opens with an amnesiac man waking up with a bag full of hundred dollar bills and a handful of black sand clenched in his fist. Some spooky guy starts chasing him and firing off blasts of blue energy rays, the amnesiac guy finds that he knows how to hot-wire a car and uses that to flee. He checks into a motel, shaken and confused, and wakes up the next morning, still amnesiac, covered in blood that isn't his and with an alien bug crawling around on his chest!

I am a total sucker for that sort of premise. Especially when it revealed that he is amnesiacally teleporting in his sleep, a process which is screwing with his memories, and that he comes from a family of completely bonkers evil psychics.

Unfortunately, the book focuses less on him and more on the overly cutesy married PIs he hires to investigate his life, and the teleporting is more of a plot device than what the story is about. It never really explains what was up with the alien world he teleports to, either. Very strong first third, increasingly incoherent second two-thirds. Warning for MASSIVE INSECT SQUICK - if you thought the teleportation accident in The Fly was gross, this is about a billion times grosser. And the "horrifying backstory" was kind of hilarious, featuring generational incest culminating in a "hermaphrodite" who inseminated hirself with hir own sperm to produce freaky psychic kids!

Still, it did give me rather fond memories of what I recall as being more coherent Koontz novels. My favorite in high school was Watchers, which has a sweet romance and a super-intelligent genetically engineered golden retriever. I also remember liking Lightning, which had a complicated and twisty time-travel plot, and Hideaway, the latter mostly because I liked the relationship between the main couple and the little girl they adopt. Be aware that pretty much all Koontz novels contain sadistic villains and conservative political lecturing.

The Bad Place

Watchers

Lightning
Dean Koontz writes thrillers, some involving science fiction or fantasy, some just bad guys chasing people, with excessively wholesome protagonists, hilariously evil villains, and cute kids and pets. They are very good airplane reading.

I read a bunch of Dean Koontz novels in high school, and then two things happened simultaneously: my tastes matured, and he decided that rather than merely sneaking lectures into his thrillers (sneaking in the sense that a child banned from an area stealthily returns hidden under a blanket, but nevertheless) he should devote entire pages to discussions of What Is Wrong With America (not enough "traditional values.") Also, his prose kind of sucks.

What's good about Koontz, in less-lecture mode: He is really, really readable. REALLY REALLY READABLE. I found this book at my parents' place the other day, idly decided to read a chapter before bedtime, and could not put the damn thing down until I had finished it, even though I had to get up at 6:00 AM the next day and I didn't finish it until past midnight. Part of this is that his premises are often quite genuinely cool, though his ability to follow through on them varies.

The Bad Place opens with an amnesiac man waking up with a bag full of hundred dollar bills and a handful of black sand clenched in his fist. Some spooky guy starts chasing him and firing off blasts of blue energy rays, the amnesiac guy finds that he knows how to hot-wire a car and uses that to flee. He checks into a motel, shaken and confused, and wakes up the next morning, still amnesiac, covered in blood that isn't his and with an alien bug crawling around on his chest!

I am a total sucker for that sort of premise. Especially when it revealed that he is amnesiacally teleporting in his sleep, a process which is screwing with his memories, and that he comes from a family of completely bonkers evil psychics.

Unfortunately, the book focuses less on him and more on the overly cutesy married PIs he hires to investigate his life, and the teleporting is more of a plot device than what the story is about. It never really explains what was up with the alien world he teleports to, either. Very strong first third, increasingly incoherent second two-thirds. Warning for MASSIVE INSECT SQUICK - if you thought the teleportation accident in The Fly was gross, this is about a billion times grosser. And the "horrifying backstory" was kind of hilarious, featuring generational incest culminating in a "hermaphrodite" who inseminated hirself with hir own sperm to produce freaky psychic kids!

Still, it did give me rather fond memories of what I recall as being more coherent Koontz novels. My favorite in high school was Watchers, which has a sweet romance and a super-intelligent genetically engineered golden retriever. I also remember liking Lightning, which had a complicated and twisty time-travel plot, and Hideaway, the latter mostly because I liked the relationship between the main couple and the little girl they adopt. Be aware that pretty much all Koontz novels contain sadistic villains and conservative political lecturing.

The Bad Place

Watchers

Lightning
Please reminisce, fondly or not, about any of these, or other books read in childhood, especially if they seem to have, deservedly or undeservedly, vanished from the shelves. I'd love to hear about non-US, non-British books, too.

[Poll #1720139]
Please reminisce, fondly or not, about any of these, or other books read in childhood, especially if they seem to have, deservedly or undeservedly, vanished from the shelves. I'd love to hear about non-US, non-British books, too.

[Poll #1720139]
All the "shoot your pet" choices have failed to make it to the semi-finalists! It was a tough round, but Alan's euthanized animal kingdom beat Old Yeller's rabies.

Regarding the first question, not to tip the scales, but I recalled two pieces of information that might be useful: the cat is one of the few characters who does not starve to death in the apocalypse; when Sounder's face gets shot off, the boy puts part of his ear under his pillow and prays for him to recover.

Incidentally, it's already out of the competition, but I found an excerpt from the Scottish dog-on-dog massacre. And Hoppin's young dog, who three hours before had been the children's tender playmate, now fiendish to look on, dragged after the huddle up the hill. Back the mob rolled on her. When it was passed, she lay quite still, grinning; a handful of tawny hair and flesh in her dead mouth.

Have fun, folks!

Dead pets, dead parents, and evil institutions )
The battle of Orangutan vs. Apocalypse was very, very tough. I'm not sure the current results were really statistically significant. Nevertheless, Apocalypse wins and goes on to the next round.

Once I shook up the brackets, "shoot your rabid dog" easily trounced "shoot your veggie-eating deer."

Because I added a new contestant in the last round and so ended up with an odd number of finalists, the winner of the Paterson entry is now going up against another newbie which I forgot to add last time, Sounder.

Death, death, mutilation, madness, and more death, but no blindness unless you count Sounder losing an eye along with half his face to a shotgun blast )
I meant to do standard "winner of # 1 faces winner of # 2" bracketing, but was forced to shake it up as the contenders in the "You have to shoot your beloved pet" category tied. Also, I added a couple that I forgot last time. Katherine Paterson now has her own category!

Dead kittens, blind ponies, and evil puppeteers )
rachelmanija: (Emo Award: Shinji agony)
( Feb. 14th, 2008 12:59 pm)
In honor of The Anime Ewo Awards, I present the YA Agony Awards! Voting by rounds. Expect spoilers, though honestly these books are not exactly surprising, ie, the dog dies.

Please argue for your favorites or nominate others in comments.

Dead dogs, dead moms, and the death of the universe )
1. The dog always dies.

1a. Unless the dog is a minor supporting character. But if the bond between the kid and the dog is a major part of the book, the dog will die. The more gorily, the better! Torn apart by wild animals is good. Rabies is good too. But contracting rabies from being torn apart by wild animals, and then having to be shot by the kid's father or, better yet, the kid himself, is best.

1b. Unless Gordon Korman wrote the book.

1c. This applies to any animal that forms a strong bond with the protagonist, ie, a hawk, a red pony, a fawn, etc. And goes double if the protagonist is already miserable due to racism, the Dust Bowl, being a miner in Scotland, etc.

2. If a boy is torn between a sexy girl and a sexually unaware/uninterested girl, the sexy girl will turn out to be evil, or at the very least selfish and not the right choice. That goes double if the sexy girl is also rich.

3. After about 1950, if the heroine's sibling dies, the entire book has to be about that. Before about 1950, it could be a sad interlude in a book that's about something else entirely.

4. In the eighties and nineties, the YA novel plot was "Teenager meets dying/mentally ill/emotionally scarred/physically or mentally disabled person/child of said person, and learns the important lesson that you can't fix other people's lives." Thank God, that plot seems to have fallen out of popularity.

5. Pinwheels make good memorials.
Three YA novels, three not-entirely-satisfying reading experiences.

Rats Saw God, is a first novel by Rob Thomas, who went on to create Veronica Mars. I would like to try some of his later novels, as although this one has flashes of the VM wit and style many of us know and love, he clearly learned a lot since he wrote this one.

There are two stories here. In the present day, Steve is a stoner senior who's flunking out despite his brilliant SAT scores. A sympathetic counselor offers to let him graduate if he turns in a 100 page manuscript on absolutely anything. Steve starts writing about what happened to him in his sophomore year, the year that his famous astronaut father is still married to his mother, the year he falls in love, the year he's in the school Dada club... and the year his life fell apart. This narrative is intercut with the story of how he pulls himself together in his senior year, as writing about the past gives him insight into the present.

There's a lot of intelligence here, and Thomas writes about teenagers really convincingly. It's a quick read, and often funny-- the bits about the Dada club are hilarious, although I think most of their art is actually surrealist social satire, not Dada. The trouble I have with the book is that the parts in the past are much more compelling than the parts in the present, and a lot of crucial emotional breakthroughs and character relationships are told rather than shown. For instance, late in the book Steve has a revelation about his father, himself, and their relationship-- sorry, I have to spoil this to explain, skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to know-- which is that their difficult relationship is because they are more alike than different, although Steve had thought they were opposites. The trouble with this is partly that another character tells this to Steve, and partly that what she says about Steve-- that like his Dad, he's a neat freak and a control freak and so forth-- is not behavior we've seen Steve exhibit. Also, Steve's big trauma is pretty predictable, especially if you saw the VM episode where the same thing happens.

Not at all a bad read, but I bet Thomas' later books are better.

Isabelle Holland was a writer of YA and Gothic novels who seems to have been most popular in the seventies. I imprinted on her YAs as a kid and her Gothics as a teen, and that's a big part of the reason why I snatch them up if I see them used. The Gothics have mostly aged better than YAs, many of which-- like the ones below-- have become sadly dated.

Most of Holland's YA novels are about a girl who is fat, used to be fat, or has parents who think she's fat, and who loves animals. Holland is very good at delineating the emotional states of angsty teenagers, and her adult characters tend to be more three-dimensional than is common in YA novels. This, however, is sometimes a problem when she starts siding with the adults over the teenagers. I'm sorry, but in a YA novel I am probably going to sympathize with the teen narrator no matter what. This is especially problematic in her problem novels, which tend to be more one-note than her general YA novels, and is a major issue in The Search and Hitchhike.

The Search was written in 1991, which probably makes it one of her last novels, and it still feels dated. Seventeen-year-old Claudia goes to her teacher's house; he gets her drunk, has sex with her while she's in a blackout, and gets her pregnant. She gives up the baby for adoption, to an agency that will never ever let her know who has her baby or what happened to him. But afterward, she worries about her baby: what if he didn't go to a good home? What if he's being abused? She embarks on a search.

This is readable, like all Holland's books, but ultimately meh. She is way more sympathetic to the father of the baby, and at Claudia's expense, than I would be. Points for a sympathetic priest and a touching ending, though.

In Hitchhike, teenage Pud is told to never ever ever hitchhike. She hitchhikes. Bad stuff happens. There is an interesting idea here, which is that Pud is first picked up by a man whose daughter ran away, because Pud reminds him of his daughter and he thinks that by getting insight into Pud, he can figure out what happened to his daughter and why she left. If this had been the whole novel, and had been developed at more length, it would have been a better novel. But hitchhikers must pay for their stupid deeds, so Pud flees that guy and promptly gets kidnapped and held for ransom.

It is symptomatic of something that drove me nuts all through the book, which is that Pud is always excoriated at length for everything she does wrong, but not praised for what she does right, that after she escapes she tries to see the bright side by saying, "Hey, it was pretty cool that I sawed through the ropes and broke through a weak place in the shed and escaped, huh?" and is answered by a scolding about how stupid she was to have gotten in the truck in the first place.

The dog that she rescues early on doesn't die, though, and she does get to keep him, so props to Holland for not punishing Pud by killing her dog.
While looking up yet another book I read when I was a kid while doing memoir rewrites, I finally figured out that the dead dog book which I had always remembered as Old Wullie is actually called Bob, Son of Battle. It's by Alfred Ollivant, and is the extremely-- no, EXTREMELY gory and tragic story of an old Scotsman and his killer dog, Red Wull, which people inexplicably thought was a nice rousing dog story for kids. And it's online via Project Gutenberg.

My cat-vacuuming did not extend to reading the whole thing, but I did go to the end to see if I'd embroidered its bloodiness in my memory. Nope. Turns out I understated it. Read-- if you dare-- what I read when I was nine, and share in my trauma.

Cut for length, dialect, and the horripilating story of how every dog in a dog-ridden Scottish village attacked Red Wull en masse )

Over the dead body he stooped.

"What ails ye, Wullie?" he asked again. "Will you, too, leave me?"

Then Bessie, watching fearfully, saw him bend, sling the great
body on his back, and stagger away.

Limp and hideous, the carcase hung down from the little man's
shoulders. The huge head, with grim, wide eyes and lolling tongue,
jolted and swagged with the motion, seeming to grin a ghastly
defiance at the world it had left. And the last Bessie saw of them
was that bloody, rolling head, with the puny legs staggering
beneath their load, as the two passed out of the world's ken.

In the Devil's Bowl, next day, they found the pair: Adam M'Adam
and his Red Wull, face to face; dead, not divided; each, save for
the other, alone. The dog, his saturnine expression glazed and
ghastly in the fixedness of death, propped up against that
humpbacked boulder beneath which, a while before, the Black
Killer had dreed his weird; and, close by, his master lying on his
back, his dim dead eyes staring up at the heaven, one hand still
clasping a crumpled photograph; the weary body at rest at last, the
mocking face--mocking no longer--alight with a whole-souled,
transfiguring happiness.

The end
Yes, it's another mainstream bestseller which is actually sf. Slipstream, anyway.

Paul's wife Lexy plummets from an apple tree in their yard and dies. There are mysterious circumstances surrounding her death, but the only witness is their dog Lorelei. As in this world, dogs have occasionally been taught to talk, Paul tries to teach Lorelei to talk in order to find out what happened to Lexy.

Flashbacks to their nauseatingly cute courtship and marriage ensue. Lexy (lexicon, get it?) made masks. Masks symbolize the surface which Paul is trying to burrow beneath. They symbolize Lexy's adorable surface which covers up her pain. Paul's travails with Lorelei lead him to a bittersweet understanding of the truth about him, his wife, language, love, death, life, dogs...

Here's how you can tell that the author did not think she was writing sf: although the setting is a world identical to our own except that some people have succeeded in teaching and/or surgically altering dogs so they can talk, and though this single alteration is so central to the plot that the book could not exist without it, the thread of the story which deals with an evil dog-mutilating cabal and with the tragic figure of an altered dog is briefly of crucial importance, then abandoned with no explanation of what happened to the dog-mutilators, the mutilated dog, or why they did something of major significance to the main characters, but which makes no sense whatsoever when you think about it.

I didn't like the book at all. I thought it was over-weighted with obvious symbolism, cutesy, sentimental, and that the sf elements were poorly handled. Also I found all the characters annoying, except for Lorelei, who was boring. On the positive side, it doesn't go into any details about the dog mutilation.

(For non-speaking fictional dogs with personality, see Robin McKinley's DEERSKIN, R. A. MacAvoy's back-in-print LENS OF THE WORLD and its stand-alone sequels KING OF THE DEAD and THE BELLY OF THE WOLF (the dog in the latter books might be a wolf and is unlike any of my other recommendations in being overwhelmingly creepy and disturbing), Gerald Durrell's hilarious MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS, the complete works of James Herriot, and all those YA novels where the dogs die gruesomely at the end.)

Great premise, though.
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