Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston

I've lived in New York City for just under a year now and there are still huge swathes of the city I've yet to explore. So on the nice weekends this summer (of which there have been disappointingly few) I'm trying to go out and see new places - especially if I can connect them to a book I'm reading!

I picked up Wondrous Strange because the annotation on the BBYA nominations page mentions A Midsummer Night's Dream. Now, despite being a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge drama geek, I've never been a big fan of Shakespeare. In college I took a 2 week study abroad course on the bard because I had to take a Shakespeare class and 2 weeks in London sounded a hell of a lot better than a semester in a stuffy classroom. However, Midsummer was my first introduction to Shakespeare, way back in 5th grade when I got to be a fairy in the high school's production (being the daughter of their costumer definitely had its perks!). Then, right when the play was about to open, the cartoon Gargoyles started a Midsummer-themed arc featuring Oberon, Titania and Puck prominently.

So even though there is nothing else about Wondrous Strange that would normally appeal to me, I knew I had to pick it up. And as long as I was reading something Shakespearean-esque, why not check out the Shakespeare Garden in Central Park?

(Inscription reads: This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath,/May prove a beauteous flow'r when next we meet)

From what I've read the garden is best viewed in springtime when all of the flowers are in bloom. I had to settle for greenery. Lots and lots of greenery.

I did, however, find a plaque and some plants from Midsummer. Here's my attempt at fitting the book and the plaque into the same photo:

"I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows/where oxlips and the nodding violet grows/Quite over-canopied with lush woodbine/With sweet musk-roses and with Eglantine" A Midsummer Night's Dream, ii, 1

Mission accomplished, I found a nice grassy shaded area, broke out a picnic lunch, and settled in to read Wondrous Strange, and was very proud of myself that the book all but opens in the very part of Central Park I was sitting in!

Kelley, at 17, has moved to New York City to pursue her dream of acting, and has caught her lucky break when the tempermental star of A Midsummer Night's Dream storms off the stage, forcing stagehand and understudy Kelley to step into the role of the fairy queen Titania. It's Autumn in New York, just days before Halloween - an eerie time in the city. Kelley, already stressed from being pushed suddenly into the spotlight, is further unnerved when she attracts the attention of a mysterious good looking stranger in the park. And then she finds a horse in the reservoir that proceeds to follow her home and take up residence in her apartment's tiny bathtub.

Kelley has unwittingly been wandering through Central Park when the barrier between the human and fairy worlds is at its weakest. The mysterious stranger is Sonny Flannery, one of Auberon's guards of the gate. Sonny is instantly attracted to Kelley, not only for her spunk and good looks - but rather there's an almost otherworldly element to her that Sonny can't get out of his mind - even when he's supposed to be guarding the human world from Queen Mab's minions.

It feels to me like if you've read one girl-meets-fairies story you've probably read them all - it's not a genre that holds my attention particularly well, but the slight Shakespearean element adds a little bit of depth to the story. Only a little bit, because it's not like the story itself mimics Midsummer, rather characters like Auberon (Oberon) and Puck are inserted where, really, any generic fairy king/trickster could have been.

The inclusion of some Midsummer characters did get me thinking, though - Oberon shows up in lots of places in literature - but I can't think of anything outside of the Gargoyles cartoon that features Titania (who personally I've always found more awesome - the only person with the guts to stand up to Oberon. And he could only get her back using magic!). Anyone know of a book where Titania gets to be the star?
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