I’m SO SORRY guys! I scheduled wordpress to post this yesterday because I’m out of town and this, clearly didn’t happen! My apologies to everyone at Terra Communications, who were looking for reviews to be up yesterday!
Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein was sent to me as an ARC by Terra Communications, and I couldn’t be more grateful for just how wonderful the book was! One of my biggest issues with accepting ARCs is the pull between being honest about the review and still doing service to the group asking for the review. With this book, however, that won’t at all be a problem!
The story takes place in Wrangell, Alaska, primarily, amongst the Tlingit Native American population. Now, this is completely serendipitious because, as of late, a friend of mine, Gingerboy, has begun telling me more and more about his own Native American roots, setting me on a little bit of an obsessive path – I’ve been reading all the Native American short stories and legends I can get my hands on lately. This story focuses primarily on the myth of the kushtaka, spirits that are half-otter, half-human and exist to “save” the drowning (or other wayward souls) by taking them into their spirit world and converting them into kushtaka. However, once a kushtaka, the person’s soul can never cross into the Land of Dead Souls, which is the worst possible fate for the Tlingit, who believe in reincarnation of the soul, but only from the Land of Dead Souls.
The book tells the story of Jenna and Robert, whose son drowns at a resort that’s about to be opened on Tlingit ground. Two years later, Jenna returns to Wrangell (for the first time since her son Bobby’s death) to confront this loss and, along the way finds a spirit guide a dog named Oscar, a love in a man named Eddie, and an adventure between the spirit worlds facilitated by a brave and crafty shaman David Livingstone (“Dr. Livingstone, I presume…” for all those African history buffs out there!) The novel tackles head-on the line between a culture’s local legends and it’s realities, and just how hard it can be to overcome our own human cynicism and believe something that may be unbelievable but is right in front of us, none the less.
The novel had absolutely wonderful moments – Stein’s writing style is absolutely wonderful to get lost in – and, surprisingly enough, the book does a remarkable job at staying grounded in as much reality as possible. When you have a book that features an old shaman burrowing underground to the home of soul-stealing otter-people, it can become very easily for that book to become completely removed from reality. But Stein’s emotions and slow evolution of the story keeps that from happening.
However, there were a few small issues I had with the book (although these really are more matters of taste than any kind of concrete issues with the book). The first of which is that, by the end of the book, Jenna doesn’t end up with the person I would’ve liked her to. Stein did such a great job of pushing other narrative boundaries (his writing, at times, borders on stream-of-consciousness and the twists he gives his metaphors are almost always unexpected) that it would’ve been nice to seem him try and branch out of this one last expected plot device.
I also had a few issues with the intelligence of some of the characters, especially in relation to being able to recognize a kushtaka. Part of the charm of the kushtaka is that they can take on the shape of people that you know and love. Everyone seems to know this about them. And yet, all the time, the characters of the novel are randomly and blindly following people they “know” out into dark moonlit nights along creepy paths. Because that’s not weird at all? Just one of those things that by about the fifteenth time gets to be a bit too much.
All in all, the book was a wonderful read and did a great job of taking me to small-town Alaska, where life is governed by a different set of beliefs and societal rules. Stein’s writing will wrap you up and, while the book didn’t fly by, it’s middling pace wasn’t at all a problem!
And now, without further ado, my FIRST EVER WORDPRESS BOOK BLOG GIVEAWAY!!!!!! (yeah, that’ll catch your attention). I did a few over on Blogger (when I was still silly enough to think that was a good idea) and I’m really excited to host another giveaway! I’ll be giving away a copy of Garth Stein’s other WONDERFUL book The Art of Racing in the Rain!
The rules for the contest are as follows:
1.) The contest will run from now (Thursday, March 11th, 2010) through Thursday, March 26th – which is TWO WEEKS, and will account for the fact that I’m on Spring Break.
2.) To ENTER: Leave a comment telling me about your favorite cultural legend/folktale, what you love about folk or fairy tales, or what kind of influence legends have had on your life, as well as an email at which you can be reached if I like your answer best!
3.) The WINNER will be chosen by me, based on whichever answer I like, and will be getting a brand spanking new copy of a wonderful book (and look at how cute the puppy on the cover is!) in hand before they know it.
Happy spring and happy reading!