Thursday, January 21, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: The Best Books No One's Ever Heard Of

This Wednesday, we’re blogging about obscure books that we love. So, this post is about some books that I rave about to people only to get a blank but polite expression in response most of the time. That’s my definition of obscure, and it’s a fairly loose one. Also, I’m half awake. So this post will be all rambly and half awake Leila-like and I’ll probably find some way of nonsensically repeating myself halfway through. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte.

Yeah. I meant it when I said it was a loose definition. But, let’s face it, if you bring up the Brontes, everyone who doesn’t think of Wuthering Heights thinks of Jane Eyre, and everyone who doesn’t think of Jane Eyre thinks of Wuthering Heights. And Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are all well and good but The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is possibly one of the bravest books of its time, and because of that I’ve always had a soft spot for it. Also I once read it when I was really, really ill, and it was a good distraction. I can't normally read when I'm sick, especially dense Victorian prose, but I somehow managed to read and love this.

Think Victorian times, when female writers were still frowned upon simply for being female writers. Think of the ideal of the saintly housewife, keeping house so beautifully that not even one single speck of dust is out of order, always abiding by her husband’s wishes, accepting her lower position without any fight, because, naturally, her husband knows best. Think of marriage as even more binding than it is today, something you rarely get out of except by death, something you are honour bound to continue with even if it kills you. And if it's killing you, then you don't admit it. Ever.

And then you get Anne Bronte, who goes and writes a book about a woman who takes her son and walks out on her drunken, domineering husband, sets up in a house in a new town, arising the suspicion of most of the locals, and earns her own living as an artist. There’s a lot more to it than that, but seriously, if you can handle Victorian prose and you want to read something compelling and difficult and at times brutal, give Tenant a try.

The World to Come, by Dara Horn.

This is possibly only going down as obscure because I don’t really hang in literary fiction circles much these days. But anyway. My sister and I are both in love with this painter called Chagall, who painted dreamlike surrealist scenes, full of flowers and flying lovers and animals with guitars and cloudy blue night sky. Looking at them is like watching a slow and beautiful dance where things might not make sense at first, but drift perfectly into place all the same. And that’s what this book is like. It starts with a guy stealing a Chagall painting from an event at a museum in New York, and it goes in all sorts of directions from there.

A Fistful of Sky, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

I can’t really do this book justice in a description, but basically, in Gypsum’s family, all the children go through transition during adolescence and become mages, like their mother. When Gypsum reaches twenty and her transition still hasn’t happened, and she’s pretty much accepted that her life is going to be a non-magical one. Until she discovers that what she thought was the flu was a transition of her own. But unlike her siblings, her power is dark.

I seriously have no idea why more people haven’t heard of Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Her way of writing fantasy is whimsical, psychological and wonderfully bizarre.

Everything Beautiful, by Simmone Howell.

Again, this is cheating, because while a lot of people in Australia, NZ and the States don't know this one yet, this book is totally going to be huge once the YA community catches on. And I seriously want to know what it is about Australia that makes them produce so much excellent YA, because this is no exception. For me, Everything Beautiful was the equivalent of a big block of chocolate. I carried it around in my bag for a while and snacked on it whenever I needed cheering up. Unlike chocolate, it didn’t melt or go stale. Always a plus.

Riley is outspoken and atheist, and when her stepmother organises for her to be sent to a Christian summer camp, Riley is sure there will be no conversion story happening here. In fact, she’s pretty much convinced it will be hell on earth. And she’s certainly not wrong. But being stuck at Spirit Ranch Holiday Camp also means that she meets the mysterious, wheelchair-bound Dylan. I love how this novel is at turns funny and serious, I love how it somehow manages to be both realistic and larger than life at the same time, and I love Dylan and Riley and their banter.

To read about more brilliant novels that you should read, visit YA Highway!


Kaitlin Ward said...

Awesome! I haven't read any of these. A Fistful of Sky, in particular, sounds like something I would love.

Kristin said...

Pretty sure I MUST read TENANT now. :D

Kristin Miller said...

Kristins thinking alike FTW! TENANT sounds brilliant.

There is lots of great YA coming out of Aus/NZ. I'm excited to check out your selections.

Leila Austin said...

A Fistful of Sky is weird and awesome and you should totally read it. I love the way the magic works, and I love Gypsum's family. I have a thing for YA with interesting families.

And yes! Read Tenant! I wouldn't describe it as an easy read but it's definitely worth it. It was one of the highlights of my Victorian Women Novelists paper.

*is a literature nerd*

Anna said...

Great post! Having been to the Bronte's domain, Anne usually gets the short end of the stick. I think my daughter has that book, from your recommendation, I'm going to have to give it a go!

Leila Austin said...

It's a shame that people forget about Anne. I think it's amazing that she managed to get Tenant published, in some aspects it's very much ahead of its time.

The Brontes' domain? Does that mean you've visited the moors they used to live on or their old house? Because that would be awesome :-)

CarlyB said...

A Fistful of Sky sounds brilliant and I'm really glad you've got Simmone Howell up on here, she's great :)
Great post!

Leila Austin said...

Yeah, Simmone Howell is totally going to be the next big Australian YA writer. I liked Notes from the Teenage Underground too.