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In pop culture, YADA-YADA usually means "blah, blah, blah" or "more of the same." For this blog, YADA-YADA is an acronym meaning "Young Adult Discussions About Young Adult-Designed Art." Check out my summaries and reviews of teen media. Chime in and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blog No. 12--The Amethyst Road by Louise Spiegler

Fantasy (or Alternative Reality)

Title: The Amethyst Road
Author: Louise Spiegler

Bibliographic Information:
Published September, 2005
Clarion Books (Houghton/ Mifflin).
Hardcover: 336 pages
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0618485724
ISBN-13: 978-0618485727
Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.3 inches
Reading level: Young Adult 7th grade and up
Interest Level: 13 and up

Andre Norton Award Nominee.

Reader’s Annotation:
Sixteen-year-old Serena Wallace, sister Willow and baby niece Zara live together alone, trying to survive in the crime-filled Oestia neighborhood where they are outcasts because they are multiracial (from a Gorgio [light-skinned] father and a Yulang [dark-skinned] mother), and because Willow gave birth without being married. Despite the fact that smart Serena attends a Gorgio school, they can’t escape The Cruelty, a social services organization which takes light-skinned babies in a form of legal kidnapping to give the children to Gorgio mothers who cannot bear their own. Zara’s kidnapping launches Serena on a journey to find her—and on the way, discovers many secrets, lies and answers even she didn’t know she was looking for.

Plot Summary:
On the outside, Oestia seems very much like a city similar to many in modern day America: it has issues with class, race, morality and the role of women in society. However, it is in Oestia where 16-year-old Serena Wallace and her older sister, Willow, and Willow’s illegitimate two-year-old daughter, Zara, struggle to survive without parents: their father is long dead, and their mother is missing, believed to be insane. They are outcasts or ma’hane due in part to their mixed blood, but more so because Willow had Zara without the benefit of marriage. Willow takes after her Gorgio father—she is light-skinned, with light eyes, and considered very beautiful, but is completely irresponsible and incapable of taking care of the family, even though she is out of school and is the oldest. Serena takes after her Yulang mother: she has darker skin and eyes, and a gypsy-like spirit. She knows how to negotiate with people to help keep the little family together. Serena is extremely bright: she attends a Gorgio school and studies the ancient Romanae language, but is also gifted in music and has the Kereskedo Yulang knack for selling items at the plaza.

Trouble starts for Serena and Willow when the Gorgio social services—called “The Cruelty” by the neighborhood, take Zara away from Willow. This, coupled with the fact that Serena believes she killed a male member of the Cruelty, sends her off to escape capture by the authorities, but also on a quest for her mother, whose whereabouts have been unknown since her father died. While on her journey, she meets Shem, who is on a quest to find himself, and find a wife. Despite many trust issues, the two join forces and travel deep into the mountains where precious gems are sought, and Trident Riders seek to wipe out those of non-Gorgio blood. Together, Serena and Shem struggle to find Zara, her mother and themselves—and Serena learns many things about her family, her tribe and herself—answers she didn’t even know she was seeking.

Critical Evaluation:
This book in many ways could have taken place anywhere. Many of the richly painted scenes depict the difficulties of a person living in a society where the dominant culture is not the one you come from. This is a book about racism, to be sure—but it is also about the magic of self-discovery, and learning that where one comes from both informs their life and makes them stronger as a result, despite the challenges.

On the other hand, there is an otherworldly feeling to this setting—perhaps a kind of post-apocalyptic society, or future gone way wrong kind of place, where bad things happen because of appearances and propriety, and not because of how one lives inside. There are magical elements, but this is truly a grim and very realistic story about the implications of racism in a controlling, one-sided society where some have and some have not. The beauty of this book is that the author created the place, the races, even the language, making this a highly original yet very familiar story.

Reading level/Interest Age:
The publisher recommends this book for grades 7 and up and age 13 years or older. While I think this is largely correct. I believe older teens, particularly girls, will like this novel because of the “reality-based fantasy” throughout the book. There is a love story inherent in the book, but the adventures of the heroine make Serena a role model for today’s young women.

Information about the Author:
Louise Spiegler, originally from Buffalo, New York began writing when she was twelve. She attended Johns Hopkins University and studied International Politics, where she developed a passion for grass-roots organization. She worked to bring notoriety to a variety of causes and issues, including nuclear freeze and disarmament, the Central American Solidarity Committee, and worked on an Anti-Apartheid coalition. While doing all of this, she wrote and published short stories in a zine’ called the Shattered Wig Review.

Louise attended Temple University and earned a graduate degree in English and Creative Writing, and eventually moved to South Korea to teach interested people there how to speak English. While there, she met her husband, and Englishman named Richard Moore. Together they traveled all over Asia, but eventually settled in Seattle, where Louise began working with the Anti-Defamation League. Once she had children, she stopped worked and started writing in earnest, finishing The Amethyst Road when her oldest child was four years old. She teaches at Cascadia College. Her new novel The Jewel and the Key is set to be published sometime in 2010.

Curriculum Ties:
It could be interesting to read this side-by-side with JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In some small ways, this is a subdued female version of that book.

Booktalking Ideas:
This is a great story for girls, and some boys who enjoy novels that are a combination of adventure, fantasy or alternative reality AND still contain a bit of romance in it. Serena is a real heroine, and a role model to many young women who feel that they must stand up for what they believe in/ despite all possible negative consequences.

Challenge Issues: None.

Why I Included This Book:
I read The Amethyst Road shortly after I first became a librarian. It has always stayed with me, particularly because of the author’s attention to detail and her ability to create a great story about important topics without being preachy.

Cover image courtesy of: http://www.flipkart.com/book/amethyst-road-louise-spiegler/0618485724

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