Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Spark, by Sarah Beth Durst

What if something that was making your life wonderful was also making someone else's life miserable? If you found out about it, what would you do?

This seems to me one of the central moral questions of our time, and Spark is a lovely, gentle but remorseless engagement with it. This is such an important book; all adults should be required to read it!

It's also a sweet, fun story about following your heart and finding your voice and figuring out where you belong. And it has dragons! (Well, storm beasts. But close enough as makes no mind!)

Durst says she got the idea for this book from the first line: Mina was quiet. "But I didn't want it to be the story of a quiet girl who learns how to be loud. I wanted it to be the story of a quiet girl who discovers she's strong, exactly as she is." I love that.

I loved Mina, I loved her passion, her intelligence, her patience and her frustration. I appreciated the depictions of her boisterous family and the way she loves them and belongs without being like them.

I adored her storm beast Pixit and their relationship, they way they remind each other of their strengths and bring out the best in each other.

I was so happy with the school scenes—Mina is unlike all the other students, but she finds friends and figures out her talents and discovers that she belongs. It's an outcast story without any bullying, and isn't that a good thing to have examples of?

The world of Alorria was fascinating and colourful; simplistic in the way middle-grade fantasies often are, but with enough complexity to be believable and to generate an interesting plot. The concept of storm beasts and the use of them to control weather was a lot of fun. The prime minister is a great character. I thought Mina's solution to her dilemna was brilliant and quite relevant to our own world.

I've consistently been impressed with Sarah Beth Durst's work. She is incredibly imaginative, thoughtful and has a deep understanding of psychology. My copy of Spark had a sample chapter from The Stone Girl's Story,  and I'm now anxious to get my hands on that one!

Since we just celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving, I'll compare Spark to the tasty and very different stuffing my son made for his turkey: it had walnuts and apples and pomegranate seeds, so it was colourful and crunchy and had all the sweet, sour, savoury and salty flavours. (His gravy was great too: had notes of lemon and fennel and white wine.) I love that my kids are all better cooks than I am!

Note that today is your last day to nominate books for the Cybils award. Spark has been nominated in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category, along with a lot of other great books. If there's one you know of that's missing, hurry and nominate it!

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