Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Voices from our pre-historic past

I read Kit's Wilderness by David Almond for my YA lit class last summer. I didn't like it.

I read Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd this weekend and absolutely loved it.

But, when I was finished Bog Child on Monday morning and was thinking about it (because it is a book that stays with you) I was struck by the similarities in the stories, and how one was so much more successful than the other.

Kit's Wilderness is the story of Kit, who moves to an English mining town to help take care of his elderly grandfather. He and his friends play the game of Death, to scare themselves. His grandfather tells him the stories of the mines, of his family. He develops a relationship (not friends, but almost) with the school troublemaker. He writes a story about a pre-historic cave family that's woven in throughout the main story.

Look, Kit's Wilderness is a Printz winner and I haven't liked the other books by Almond I've read. The story was good. But... it was heavily layered and full of symbolism and parallels. I don't mind that--it usually makes a good story, but the craft of the story was just so obvious. I could see what Almond was doing as I was reading it. When the craft of a story is so blatant that I notice it as I'm reading? Then I can't enjoy the story. I don't want such things to be obvious until I put the book down and start thinking. In this, the parallels were SO OBVIOUS. The book should come with a frying pan, because it kept hitting you over the head.

Now, Bog Child is completely different.

Fergus lives in Northern Ireland, near the border with Ireland in 1981. One day he finds a body in the bog and assumes it's a victim of the increased violence since Bobby Sands died. But, the body in the bog turns out to be from the Iron Age. Fergus must navigate life in Northern Ireland with a hunger-striking brother in prison, being recruited into IRA activities, and the archaeologists trying to discover the story of the body he dreams about at night.

So the similarities are:

Mood--Kit's Wilderness gets its bleakness from the winter season and mining landscape. Bog Child's is from the political undercurrents and family tension.

Pre-historic Story--Kit writes a story about a cave family that's woven through, Fergus dreams the life of the Bog Child leading up to her death.

Parallels--Both have several parallel stories and layers.

The story Kit's writing in English class parallels what is going on in his day-to-day life in a way that's so obvious I couldn't handle the book. Bog Child is subtler--Fergus's brother is starving himself in prison, the Bog Child is living through a time of famine, and there are subtle hints that Cora might have an eating disorder, starving herself for another reason (although this is NEVER said and might be me reading more into the text, but I'm willing to write a pretty strong paper on why I think this is so.)

All in all, Kit's Wilderness left me cold, while Bog Child haunts me. I had to force myself to finish the first (hello homework!) and couldn't put the second down.

1 comment:

Leila said...

I'm glad you reacted so strongly to Bog Child. ME TOO! It's one, I think, that not everyone will love, because it takes some amount of work, but those who do will really, really love it. It's a special one.