The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel, HarperCollins Canada, 336 pages, $19.99
The Boundless, a five-mile long train (and also Kenneth Oppel's latest, wonderful book), is about to cross Canada at the end of the 19th century. Will Everett, a teenager who feels like his shyness is a disappointment to his father, the manager of the Boundless, boards the train for her maiden voyage. On it he finds Maren, his old friend, travelling with the circus car; a sasquatch with revenge on his mind; a murderer; a hag; and just about every manner of human being. Will is displaced from his father in first class, and spends the rest of the book trying to find his way back with criminals at his heels. The journey west is delightfully studded with surprises, and Oppel cleverly has the circus performers use their skills to solve problems and make getaways. Important sub-narratives on class, the Metis uprising, and immigration keep the abracadabra moments grounded.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, Candlewick, 320 pages, $20
It’s refreshing when magic realism has room to breathe, and even more so when an author sets the spectacular in her hometown (Seattle). A convincing family history of eccentrics and their misfortunes brings the likelihood of a girl born with birds’ wings into the realm of the believable. Ava Lavender fleshes out the family tree and each members’ love and loss. The characters are rich and familiar, and Walton does whimsy with a healthy dose of melancholy and tragedy. The storytelling is completely beautiful, and when the story reaches Ava’s childhood and adolescence, we already feel at home. Culminating in a great rain after a long dry stretch, scary things happen and the scene is grisly. In Ava’s brother, Henry, the treatment of autism isn’t quaint, which is another strong point. A particularly toothsome and pleasurable read.
Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige, HarperCollins, 432 pages, $21.99
Fans of Oz, buckle your seatbelts; things in the old land are not as you may remember. Centred around a discussion of good and evil, and how these two elements are reliant on each other and often hard to discern, young Amy Gumm has to navigate her way through Oz. The villains she must defeat are surprising: an evil Scarecrow and Lion and a heartless Tin Man – and they aren’t the only ones. There are good guys, and more bad guys, and there are politics, just as there were in Baum’s Oz, which was, after all, written as political satire. Paige uses details from the original books, which is satisfying to those who have read them, and gives her Oz the necessary depth an “other” world needs. A world so familiar proves fruitful ground for overturning. (Fun fact: Gumm was Judy Garland’s last name.)
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