“Madeleine Tully turned fourteen yesterday, but today she did not turn anything.”
In Jaclyn Moriarty‘s A Corner of White (Scholastic), Madeleine and her mother used to be filthy stinking rich, until Madeleine decided to run away from school (for the seventeenth time or something) and her mother just up and decided to join her, so that the two have effectively abandoned their father wherever it was they were living before. Now they live in an attic flat in Cambridge, her mother works as a seamstress, and Madeleine is being home-schooled in an extremely unorthodox manner with two other kids her age: Jack, who is obsessed with horoscopes and believes he was friends with Byron in a past life (it should be noted that he believed he was a guinea fowl or something equally random in this past incarnation), and Belle who can read people’s auras and often forgets to blink. Madeleine is having a hell of a time adjusting to being poor and is also concerned that her mother, who is behaving extremely strangely, might be ill.
Meanwhile, in the Kingdom of Cello, Elliot Baranski has been searching for his father, who disappeared along with the high school physics teacher a year before. The popular theory is that Elliot’s father and the physics teacher were taken in a Purple attack that killed Elliot’s uncle. You see, in the Kingdom of Cello, Colors are physical manifestations that can control your mind and rip you apart. Elliot is convinced that Mischka (teacher) and his father are in a Purple lair somewhere, and he’s been traipsing all over the kingdom to try to find them. One day Madeleine finds a letter sticking out of a parking meter, a meter that says “Help! I’m being held against my will!” So, Madeleine, being an impulsive, fanciful girl, writes back, and when Elliot finds her letter sticking out of a sculpture in the town square, they begin a correspondence that passes through the fabric of their known worlds.
If the plotline sounds fairly involved, that’s only because it is. When I was at the American Library Association’s annual conference a couple weeks ago, a friend/fellow librarian mentioned how much she loved this book and its sequel, and said something along the lines of “she keeps so many threads going that I have no idea how they could possibly all come together, but she always manages to pull it off.” In other words, SIGN ME THE HELL UP.
This book is super convoluted and kooky in all the right ways. The two stories, seemingly so disparate at the start, become more and more entwined as the two pen pals begin to trust each other more and more, until the correspondence itself becomes instrumental in solving the two somewhat mirrored conflicts in two very, very different worlds. I loved how gradually the tension between the two narratives built, so that by the end of the book I was literally racing to see how on earth it could all possibly end.
The world of Cello is completely fresh and unique. It took me a while to truly get the Color attacks, but I think this may have been intentional. Throughout the novel Madeleine is completely hung up on the Colors – she doesn’t truly get them, and until you actually experience a few different attacks with Elliot, they don’t actually make sense, so that your gradual understanding of what the hell is going on in this world somewhat mirrors Madeleine’s, if not understanding, at least acceptance that maybe, maybe, all these weird letters she’s been pulling out of a parking meter might be real.
The writing is stellar. Moriarty has a way with language that makes the whole story bubble and pop but she never lets the whimsy get out of control, which is good because this is actually a damn serious story. It’s about accepting your own reality, ugly as it might be, and it’s about the relationship between belief and reality. I loved the recurring theme of questioning the reality of experiences, and the idea that your experience of a sensation is what makes it real. It’s about the disappointment of realizing that parents are fallible human beings. It’s about coming of age, and learning how to navigate this fucked up world we live in once we learn how to open our eyes to it. Basically, this is a gorgeous book with gorgeous, fresh writing and gorgeous, fresh world.
The only thing that sat a little bit uneasily with me was the tension between Hostiles and Loyalists in Cello – basically, Loyalists are those who support the royal family, and Hostiles are those who do not, and who sometimes employ violent means to undermine the monarchy. My punk rock leanings tend to side more with revolutionaries than the other way around, but Moriarty addresses this tension towards the end of the novel that gives me hope that the issue will be dealt with in a less black and white manner in subsequent chapters.
So, overall: A++++++.
For music, I chose “Oblivion” by Grimes. Not that I can relate the actual song in any way to the story, but mostly because of the synchronicity of tone. I kind of feel like this song’s effervescence with an edge of darkness creeping in is exactly what this novel would sound like in music form.
Where I got it: The library