Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Books Speak to Her

LIBYRINTH by Pearl North
4Q 3P; Audience: J/S

Clearly, as a librarian, books speak to me. But they don't speak to me. They talk to Haly, though. For as long as she can remember, Haly has heard them muttering in her ears. She finds great comfort in this, but it's also a secret she doesn't dare share with anyone but her friend Clauda, who works in the kitchens. She doesn't dare imagine what would happen if the librarians and other clerks in the Library found out.

Once a year, the Eradicants arrive at the Library for their annual book burning pilgrimage. It's painful for all the Library's inhabitants, but for Haly, it's excruciating. Only she can hear the words, her friends and comfort, fall silent as they die in the flames. She hates the Eradicants for what they do to the Library and to the books. How can they believe that written words are dead and that burning them sets them free?

This year the tension surrounding the Eradicants' arrival is higher than it's ever been. The political situation is volatile and it's not only the Library that is in danger. Neighboring countries that have always protected it are also being threatened. As a result, when Selene, the librarian Haly clerks for, finds a map that reveals the location of one of the most coveted books ever written, someone she thinks she can trust betrays her. The information winds up in the hands of the Eradicants, setting up a desperate flight and search for the treasure that lands Haly in the hands of the Eradicants and Selene and Clauda seeking help from a monarch whose loyalties and priorities are always in question.

Already familiar with the pain the Eradicants can mete out, Haly is terrified when the Eradicants discover her secret ability. What else will they do to her? A realm away, Clauda is not only suffering from her own run-in with the Eradicants, her every move is suspect. Their lives held in the balance by political machinations and religious revelations, the girls are torn by their desire to save each other and their need to save the Library. It doesn't seem possible to do both.


I wish books would talk to me. But it must be headache-inducing to hear them all at once!

I had a great time trying to identify the various quotes in the book. (I thought I'd have search for them online until I thought to turn to the end of the book and found them listed there.) I would love to hear North explain why she chose the various quotes she used. Clearly, she wanted some that were familiar and some that were obscure, with the rest falling somewhere along that spectrum. I suspect the decision to use Diary of a Young Girl came pretty easily. But how did she come to use quotes from Travels with Lizbeth and Gyn/Ecology?

Anne Frank's story has been special to me for almost as long as I can remember, so I'm already predisposed to be happy when I see it mentioned. But it was used particularly effectively in this book. Without saying too much, the moment when the listener understood the importance of the existence of the book was immensely fulfilling for me.

Though Clauda and Haly are supposed to be close friends, I felt that Clauda's relationship with Scio had more life to it, though perhaps that's because they actually spend more time together. Their escapades added a thrill of excitement that I thought was needed in the Clauda sections of the book. I'm a little slow on the uptake, I guess, because it took me a while to realize where the relationship between Clauda and Selene was headed. I think we'll have to see what happens in the sequel to know if it's a necessary ingredient or an unnecessary (though quite possibly tasty) garnish.

The ending was more violent than I expected, though I think I was naive in that.

Is it the librarian in me that made me find Haly confronting Gyneth and the censors with the power of the written word more satisfying than Clauda and Selene's spying and political maneuvering? Probably. But those scenes have an emotional resonance that the Clauda/Selene section is missing. The relationships are more complicated and deeper. Haly's situation is no more fraught with danger than Clauda's, but it has more dimensions to explore.

There's a lot of food for thought here concerning the freedom to read, religion and its role in society, family loyalty, the use and abuse of power, friendship and loyalty and betrayal. Though I think it will initially attract more girls than boys, given the predominance of female characters and some slower sections, it will have appeal to both, and it would certainly lend itself well to both formal and informal discussions. 

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