The Ocean at the End of the Lane

9780062255655_p0_v4_s260x420Although Neil Gaiman, author of Coraline, is best known as a writer of young adult science fiction and fantasy, his new book – The Ocean at the End of the Lane – is for adult readers. Some scenes may be too scary for adults, but the story has that same weird other worldly flavor that Gaiman fans expect.

When a middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral, he detours to the site of the old farm where he grew up – now a suburban housing development – and finds the old Hempstock house with the duck pond (the ocean) still there. As he stares into the “ocean,” his thoughts fade back into an amazing incident that he experienced when he was seven years old, and the duck pond had the same life energizing force as the swimming pool in “Cocoon.” The Hempstocks are a cross between the Tuck family in Natalie Babbitt’s classic and the good witches of Oz; eleven year old Lettie, with her mother and grandmother, seem to have been around forever and can save the world from “varmints” and “fleas.”

In the flashback, when the seven-year old narrator drops Lettie’s hand, as they are battling a Monster, the Monster places a worm in the arch of his foot that later takes on the form of his new beautiful blond nanny who seduces his father and tortures the boy. Only the Hempstocks can help. After excising the monster worm from the boy’s foot, Lettie discovers that a small but important part has been left behind in the boy’s heart. The ensuing battle involves an array of fantastic skirmishes with strange birds who plan to destroy the boy to get that small piece of worm. The resolution is both sad and hopeful.

Although some of the illusions are strange, and the analogies to childhood fears and adult realities are hard to miss, Gaiman mixes his tale with imaginative magic and Roald Dahl darkness, holding the reader as captive as the narrator in his fairy ring. When the story returns to the present, the narrator finds he has been watched over the years to see if his life had been worth saving.

“I’m going to tell you something important. Outside, {grown-ups are} big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have… The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”

The Ocean at the End of the Lane reveals the terrors and wonders that perhaps only the child within can see.

9780060530945_p0_v1_s260x420I am now reading Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery Award winning The Graveyard Book – the tale of a toddler who escapes a villain who slaughters the rest of his family in the middle of the night, and is raised by ghosts in a graveyard. Since this book is targeted for a younger audience, the horror is not described, and the story quickly shifts to suspense and adventure. The graveyard has an array of ghosts – a village – to raise the little boy they name Nobody – Bod for short. He connects with older residents who teach him to read and explain their history to him (some dating back to the Celts); younger ghosts offer companionship and play. He has already made a friend who is alive, and I have just met the ghouls – one is the 33rd President of the United States (look it up) – and Liza Hempstock, the ghost of a witch. I wonder if she’s related to Lettie.

The Graveyard Book is more fun than The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but then I tend to favor the scary fantasies that are for children. Have you read it?

Divergent and Insurgent

For fans of teenage adventure and bravery, twenty-two year old author, Veronica Roth renews the fervor of The Hunger Games with her Divergent trilogy – a fantasy young adult thriller based in the not too distant future. With Insurgent, the second book now on the New York Times best seller list, Divergent – the first book – is already in paperback. Those predictable cliffhangers are torture, so I bought the paperback, placed it on my shelf, and waited patiently for my number to come up on the library waitlist for Insurgent. After reading the two books in less than two days, I was rewarded with yet another hanging element – to be published Fall, 2013. Maybe the intermittent movies will sustain the momentum.

Beatrice Prior, aka Tris, lives in a world of the future with limited choices at sixteen years old. When her aptitude test fails to designate a “faction,” one of several adult living options with names defining the group, she defies tradition by leaving her home in the selfless, community-oriented Abnegation group, and opts for the challenge of the exciting warrior Dauntless clan. Through her harrowing training, she connects with other teens, vying for acceptance, and meets her true love, an eighteen year old instructor, Tobias, nicknamed Four.

The story follows the formula of a coming of age exploration, with futuristic omens and narrow escapes from both internal insecurities and jealous friends. The plot is fast-paced, easy reading, and Tris is a match for Katniss, and a fun beginning to Roth’s futuristic rebel cause.

Insurgent continues the quest for a better world that will use the talents of the five factions: Erudite (the brainy ones), Amity (peace and love for all), Candor (mostly honest), Dauntless (brave), and the idealistic Abnegation (selfless). Tris, with her brother Caleb and true love Tobias, along with foils Peter and Marcus, find the factionless – the future version of homeless – who have banned together to form a rebel army.

The action in this book has more romance and violence, with references to teen jealousies and clicks, and not as satisfying as the first book. The ending is the requisite cliffhanger, but the dystopian world view seems hopeless.