Thursday, November 16, 2006

Two Voices Are Better Than One

Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler
4Q J/S

I enjoyed reading this book. I'm not so sure that the voices ring quite true (Eliot seems just a little too poetic), but I'm ignoring that little quibble. How can I resist a book that begins My mother is a wench?

Calliope has spent the last several years bouncing around from place to place around the country. She and her mother never stay in one place for long, and each time they leave, Cal's expected to cull through her stuff to keep only the essentials. (Of course, her idea of essential and her mother's don't exactly match.) Cal's mother makes jewelry, which she sells at Renaissance Faires around the country. Since that doesn't bring in much money, she also plays the role of a wench and sells food and beer at the Faires. For those of you who don't know, a Renaissance Faire recreates a medieval village, complete with a King, Queen, royal court, fools, villains, and townspeople, and you can play games and watch entertainment similar to that of the era. During the Renaissance, a waitress/serving girl was called a wench. Depending on the wench and the establishment, beer and food might not have been the only thing she sold. Cal's mother sticks to the food and beer, at least in terms of things she sells. Cal and Delores are on their way to North Carolina, where they're going to spend the summer at a huge Faire. Cal's hopes for this gig are no higher than they were for any of the other gigs her mother has dragged her to.

Eliot lives with his mother and father in a fat camp called Sonshine Valley Christian Camp. Before Eliot's father found religion and got carried away with it, the family was very close. But now Eliot's father spends his time writing cookbooks like What Would Jesus Eat? and running his Get Thin With Christ camps. He keeps his family far from the town and far from people in general. This is not how Eliot wants to live. Eliot rebels in little ways, such as buying a Jesus is a Liberal t-shirt (which he wears, but not exactly openly) and making fireworks (illegally, since he's neither licensed nor old enough).

The day Cal and her mother come to town, Eliot just happens to be in town. As Cal and her mother drive by, Eliot catches a glimpse of Cal and he knows he wants to know this girl. But that doesn't seem likely to happen, especially after his father (aka "God Guy") turns down their request to rent one of his cabins. But of course, they do meet. Unfortunately, Eliot's lips are bright green at the time. Also unfortunately, he doesn't know it. Fortunately, Cal happens to be the kind of girl who is intrigued by guys with green lips (and good taste in books). And so it begins.

But Cal and Eliot are not the only two who are deep into romance this summer. So is Delores. Cal's totally disgusted when her mother falls for Phineus, one of the jousters at the Faire. Phineus (Phi) is soooo full of himself. He's the kind of guy who just loves to strut around shirtless, putting the moves on all the women because he knows he's just sooooo handsome they won't be able to keep their eyes or hands off him. Ugh, ugh, ugh. But Delores has never been one to put someone else's needs or wants above her own, so she doesn't much care what Cal thinks of Phi. And when Phi decides that he wants to blow off this Renaissance Faire and head West, Delores sees no problem with that. Cal, on the other hand, doesn't want to leave. She's used to being told to leave things behind, and she usually does. But North Carolina has some essentials she's not going to leave without a fight.

This book is told in two voices, which seems to be increasingly common these day (Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist,, Snatched, to name a handful). I enjoyed the writing, and the two voices are distinct. As I noted above, I think Eliot's voice is sometimes a little too full of imagery to be fully believable as a fifteen-year-old boy, but Eliot's got enough going on in his head and in his life that I'm willing to cut him (and Brad Barkley) some slack on that. Eliot and Cal are two people you can really care about, and the secondary characters of Delores, Eliot's mother Linda, and Abel (who I loved as much as Cal does) are well drawn and more than just mere foils for Eliot and Cal. Eliot's father is a little more two-dimensional, and people who are tired of religious people being portrayed negatively aren't going to happy with this book. But his inflexibility and obsession are two characteristics that shape people and events, so the characterization is not gratuitous.

If you are looking for a good romance read with characters you can really care about, I recommend this book. And it's got a sense of humor to boot. What more could you ask for?

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