Young Adult Book Review: Mistress of the Storm

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Do you ever get in a reading slump? Find yourself picking up books and about halfway through deciding that you really can’t finish them? Or being really excited about a book, only to find it dismally disappointing? That’s where I’ve been the last couple of weeks. Oh, sure, I’ve been reading some good stuff, but nothing to rave about. Over at biliophiliac, a recent post asked when was the last time you read something that you just loved, and I have to say, it’s been a while. Probably since Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. I’ve been looking for something to suck me in and give me that feeling like I want the book to never end, and that just hasn’t been happening lately. I want to be in love with a book again.

So, I decided to switch gears altogether for a while. I’m embarking on a young adult spree. There are so many young adult books mentioned out there in the blogosphere that sound good, I decided to make a list and get going.

I started with an ARC sent to me and my stepdaughter by my good friend at As the Crowe Flies (and Reads), Mistress of the Storm, by M.L. Welsh. This book is due out in the U.S. in June of 2011 from Random House.

Verity Gallant lives in Wellow, a harbour town with an interesting and mysterious history. At the very beginning of the book, a tall, sad stranger hands Verity a book called, On the Origin of Stories: A Disquisition. This seems to set off a series of unusual events, including the arrival of a grandmother she didn’t know she had and a large smuggling ship called the Storm in Wellow’s harbor.

Verity is a misfit who comes into her own and finds some friends along the way. It’s a trope in young adult fiction…they’re very often all about the misfit (is the popular kid really just not very interesting?), but it’s a trope because it works. I like Verity. She’s an interesting, sympathetic and compelling main character.

I got nervous in places that the story might go off the rails and not come together in the end. I don’t like stories where things remain unexplained (see, for example, The X-Files). I like Buffy, where it’s clear the writer had a plan from the get-go. The narrative comes together very nicely in this book, and there’s a nice little resonance with the importance of stories. The act of telling stories has special power in the book, and it’s just a teeny, tiny little bit meta-fiction-ish, which is to say, somewhat conscious of itself as a story. Just the right hint.

The story is compelling enough to cause me to make several annoyed and impatient faces at my husband when he interrupted me while reading. Once I got into the book, I finished it pretty much in one evening. Another advantage of YA fiction.

And the book isn’t all narrated from Verity’s perspective. It’s not first person, but the narrator sticks with Verity mostly throughout the book, but every now and then, we follow some other characters around town. This seems somewhat unusual for YA fiction, or maybe just what I’ve read. Do we ever really leave Harry for any significant amount of time? Or Lyra in the Golden Compass? I like that Welsh every now and then picks up her narrative camera and plops it down in a part of Wellow where Verity is not. It’s a nice displacement and gives a sense of the story being about a larger community, and not just Verity.

My stepdaughter has not read this, so I can’t say what an actual young adult might think, but I found it quite enjoyable.

What’s the best YA fiction you’ve read lately? What’s out there that I simply must read?

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  1. Hi Robyn,
    Because I often teach ninth grade English, I read a lot of Y.A. just to keep up to date with what some of my students are enjoying. Go check out my list of book reviews – there's a whole section on Y.A. fiction, with links to my reviews.
    Right now, I've got Uglies in my TBR pile because it's been so popular, and I tend to listen to audio of Y.A. and middle reader books in the car as a way to pass the time and to get another one under my proverbial belt: 13 Reasons Why is next in that queue, once I finish devouring The Plot Against America (the late great Ron Silver's reading and then I'm pouring over the pages once I'm comfortably ensconced on the sofa…). Woa: run-on. Sorry.
    Libba Bray's one of my current favorite authors of novels for a decidedly 13+ market. From the cover, Mistress of the Storm looks like it's targeted at a slightly younger crowd. Yes?

  2. Also, Anne at My Head Is Full of Books is a school librarian who offers dependable recs plus lists of what's most popular with her students. I often solicit her advice on what to sample next. That's how I happened upon Shiver, that I'm reviewing tomorrow…

  3. Laurie, thanks, that's great start. I'll write them down for my next trip to the library, where earlier this week, I have to say I was somewhat overwhelmed by the YA selection. I'll also check out My Head Is Full of Books. Yes, I think you're right that Mistress of the Storm is juvenile fiction? I didn't realize there were separate categories, but they're shelved in different places at the library. Look, I'm learning already.

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