Monday, November 9, 2015

MMGM: settings that are like characters

Two books this time that have a little more in common than my last pair: My Life in Dioramas is realistic, Wish Girl is sort of magic realism, but both have settings that are so vivid and so important in their impact on the characters that they are like characters themselves. (Also, they're both nominated for Cybils. I'm trying to make my way through the lists!)

Wish Girl is about a boy who is bullied so badly his family has to move, and who meets a girl dying of cancer. Yet it's not at all bleak, depressing, or even very sad. Peter's humorously fatalistic narration helps:
I got tired of my family saying, "What's wrong with Peter?"
There was a lot wrong with me. But at the moment the most serious thing was the rattlesnake on my feet.
Peter runs away from home and discovers a beautiful, wild, magical valley, a place that only reveals its secrets to someone who knows how to be quiet. I loved the descriptions of this valley, and the way magic and art in the valley are synonymous. I enjoyed how the valley's magic accepts Peter and Annie (and rejects the loud, violent, mean neighbor boys).

I did find those boys—and every other character besides Peter and Annie, actually—to be rather stereotyped, cardboard characters. And I thought the ending was too pat and easy, especially considering the themes of choice and acceptance I thought she was developing.

But that valley! I never thought of Texas as a beautiful place, but apparently I was wrong.

My Life in Dioramas is as quirky as it sounds. It's a quietly funny book about a family that has to leave their beloved house because they can't afford it anymore, and the lengths daughter Kate goes to try to prevent their house from selling. 

I enjoyed Kate's relationships with her best friends Stella and Naveen and the subtle changes in those relationships as they approach adolescence. I thought the family dynamics were well done; Kate's parents are fully developed characters who have their own reactions to selling the house. 

The house itself was wonderful: one of those old houses that gets added on to through the years so it has strange corners and odd rooms and little quirks, set out in the country so there's an old barn and a creek and lots of room for special places. The dioramas in the title are Kate's way of processing her grief and coming to terms with change: she makes dioramas of each room of the house that encapsulate her favourite memories. I loved how the dioramas became metaphors that worked in different layers, both for the reader and for Kate. 

Letting go of something you love is part of growing up, and Kate's journey is sweet, funny and satisfying. (Though I was disappointed the stinkbugs never played a major role in the plot!)


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed MY LIFE IN DIORAMAS. It should hit home for a lot of kids who face moving. The other title, WISH GIRL, is new to me but I might give it a try just to see Texas in a different light. Great reviews!

  2. I really like the aspect of having to be quiet to have those secrets revealed in WISH GIRL. Not sure what it was about just reading that, but it really touched me.

    1. Yeah, as an introvert, I particularly liked that element!

  3. Good for you, for working your way through the Cybils list. There are some fantastic books on that list. I've heard of My Life in Dioramas but not Wish Girl. I really want to read My Life in Dioramas. Thanks for both reviews!

  4. You have quite a lot of work to do in your judging task. Amazing. I really want read My Life in Dioramas and hope to get to it soon. I think I will take a pass on Wish Girl though. Thanks for the post.