The sun does not go down.
This mind trip of a Printz medalist by Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook Press) starts with a journalist traveling to a remote island to dig up the truth behind a peculiar but persistent rumor: the inhabitants have started to live forever. Once there he keeps catching himself in a repeating pattern of intense deja vu that starts with love at first sight and ends with ritual murder. Thus begins the first of seven narratives traveling backwards through time, all linked by repeating motifs and interlinked souls that return to the living world play out their stories, again and again and again.
First sentence is pretty good, in that it is indicative of the stark creepiness that pervades the entire book.
I will admit that as I was reading this book I was unconvinced of its Printz worthiness. It’s not terribly accessible, the seven linked narratives inhibit personal investment in the characters and their stories, it feels distant and cold. But then I finished it, and the very end of the very last chapter tied all the weirdness together, and I straight up could not stop thinking about it. I finished it days ago and I still can’t stop thinking about it. Do I think this book deserves the Printz? Yes. Would I recommend it to the majority of my teen readers? Hell to the no. Here’s why, on both counts.
This is an intricately crafted yet simple story, told in language spare enough to let its chill sink into your bones. In the seven vignettes we travel backwards through time, with repeated motifs that vary slightly in each; we have the hares that appear, again and again, either as coveted toys or the end phase of a metamorphosis or the bones on a woman’s necklace; we have the same phrases echoing in different voices over the centuries; we have the same characters finding each other in each life time, but relating to each other in different ways. Sometimes they are lovers. Sometimes they are mother and son. Sometimes they are elderly painter and small child, bonded in friendship. Sometimes they are brother and sister. But still, always they find each other, and always there is love, and for me this is one of the most beautiful parts of this story – the idea that two souls could love each other so much that they haunt the living world for seven lifetimes, the one always searching for the other. I loved that all the similarities between each story, which seem weird and arbitrary as you encounter them, are the accumulated echoes from all the different lifetimes rather than simply rehashed repetitions of the first. In essence, Sedgwick has created a story which, at first glance, simply seems bizarre and disconnected but as a whole is so elegant and delicately spun that it is a thing of beauty.
However, all that said, I don’t know how comfortable I would feel recommending this to most of my teen readers. It’s just not…teeny. At all. If you asked me (and nobody is), I’d say this is an adult or maybe a crossover book written by someone who traditionally writes for teens. There are no teen “issues” or perspectives. The themes – of reincarnated love, of the tenuous beauty in life, and how it can be obliterated by one moment of ugliness – are all pretty grown-up stuff, and without a compelling story to couch it in I’d say this requires a reader who appreciates the craft of writing as much as (or more than) they appreciate plot. I’d say this is firmly in the older range of YA, since I think it requires a more mature, sophisticated reader to really dig what Sedgwick has done.
And, I hate to admit it, but had I not known that the Printz committee had deemed it worth the ride, I may not have had the patience to stick with it til the end. It’s a weird book. If you need a well-defined, linear plotline you will be frustrated. You will ask yourself, WHAT’S WITH ALL THE GOD DAMN RABBITS. You will ask yourself, WHAT THE HELL IS WITH THIS DRAGON ORCHID AND ERRYBODY GETTING HIGH FOR A THOUSAND YEARS. You will say to yourself, THIS SHIT IS CRAY. WHAT THE EFF AM I EVEN READING. Even I, who love, LOVE books that don’t really make sense at first, almost got bored with it. But with each passing story I felt like I was starting to grasp something bigger, and after reading the very last sentence of the epilogue the book sunk its strange, strange claws into me. I am a believer.
For music, I chose Electric Wizard’s “Witchcult Today” for those crazy dragon orchid cultists and their ritual sacrifices at the heart of the story. This song is deep and dark and heavy, just like this strange but stellar book.
Where I got it: the library