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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Today In The Bookstore ...

I have a wonderful friend who writes a blog about he and his husband's "ordinary" life. It's filled with travel and humor and wit and a genuine quality that I greatly admire. I'm still exploring his many posts. The other day I stumbled on a "book review" he wrote. What a great idea, I thought, sharing your love of books and hopefully prompting people to give the authors a shot. So hopefully, he'll be flattered when I steal his notion for this post. If not, then apologies in advance.

When I was in the fourth grade, I was cruising the aisles of my local library branch. I had already rifled through the stacks of my primary school "bookery" and needed something new ... something more challenging. For some reason, I was browsing in the adult fiction section and my hand was drawn to a tattered book with an aquamarine-colored binding. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin was embossed on the spine. There was definitely magic in the title and the feelings I had as I gingerly removed the book from the tightly-packed shelf and went with the determined stride of an excited nine-year-old to the front desk to be checked out.

It almost didn't happen. The clerk ... I will always remember her heavy make-up and the prim glasses that hung around her fleshy neck by a thin chain ... argued with me that this was a "grown-up story" and it would be beyond my ability to read or comprehend. I think I whined and hinted at a tantrum because she gave in just to make me go away.

I read the book twice in those two weeks before taking it back. And it was challenging ... I had to ask my Mom about the meaning of lots of words ... but the theme about everyone battling inner demons really boosted me toward early maturity and being the crazed reader I am today. And if I'm being totally honest, that book turned me into a thief. I went back to the library a week after returning the life-changing tome and stole it. It sits on a shelf with other childhood treasures, Commandments be damned!

Anyway, the belabored introductory point I'm attempting to make is that books ... even entire genres of writing ... intended for one age group can often be wonderful experiences for a different reading demographic. Case in point: the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.

Westerfeld, a 47-year-old Texas native whose various books seem targeted toward a teen audience, has created an interwoven tale of technology and human weakness in his books "Uglies," "Pretties," "Specials," and "Extras." Written between 2005 and 2007, the books focus on the adventures of Tally Youngblood, a teenager awaiting the "treatment" given to all 16-year-old "uglies" that transforms ordinary humans into physically perfect beings. Set approximately 300 years in the future following a devastating "germ war," Tally discovers that all IS NOT beautiful in the hi-tech city enclaves where the newly created "pretties" reside. She even ventures outside of her city and discovers people living in the ruins and recovering ecology ... people who have chosen to be "ugly." It's almost a revitalized Logan's Run epic.

Westerfeld definitely covers youthful themes such as adolescence, self-image, and individuality, but the storyline is a roller coaster adventure on a par with any of today's greatest authors. There is intrigue, government conspiracy, and incredibly rich characters. I was amazed at how driven I was to get to the next page. And even though the characters were young for the most part, the constant "digs" at a society consumed by technology and a quest for "beauty" transcended any age barriers. Westerfeld was able to create a world welcomed by sci-fi fans but one that presented readers with an allegory for weaknesses and archtypes seen in our modern lives each and every day.

POINT OF RANT: Get the first book ... "Uglies" ... and I can guarantee the other three will follow!

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