In this enchanting fantasy with a romance far more taboo than the current spate of paranormal pairings, Madeline and Rogan are 14-year-old first cousins and deeply in love. Their great-grandmother was a famous actress and although her descendants have become increasingly staid, these two cousins have inherited her talent. One day, after making love for the first time, they discover, hidden in the attic of the family’s ancestral mansion, “a toy theater, made of folded paper and gilt cardboard and scraps of brocade and lace,” where, each time they visit it, the scenery and lighting have changed, among other curiosities (“Snow was falling. Not everywhere. Only behind the proscenium, on the tiny stage itself”). The cousins are cast in a high school production of Twelfth Night, one that shares the magic of the toy theater. Rogan, as Feste the clown, seems inspired but increasingly wild. It soon becomes clear that his love for Madeline is doomed to disappointment, if not tragedy. The edgy subject matter, explicit but not gratuitous, relegates this novel to mature readers, but it’s beautifully written, rich in theatrical detail and intensely realized characters. Ages 14-up. (May)
The subtlety and raw ache of the prose, and the realistic portrayal of artistic lives, triumphantly heralds Hand?s arrival into youth fiction.
Bulletin for the Center of Childrens Books
Readers will be as compelled by the strangely connected cousins as they may be disconcerted.
Romantic readers will be swept through the short novel... and will be left blinking in surprise...beyond the final page.
VOYA - Sherry Rampey
Roger Kilbourne has had rotten luck. His uncle hits him, he is poor, and he has done something terrible. You see, Roger can cross over into the land of the dead. When his uncle's plans go terribly wrong and he is killed, Roger is forced to work as a laundress in the castle. As if Roger's life could not get any worse, the queen learns of his ability and wants to use it for her own power and gain. Although Kendall uses vibrant language to describe the characters and the setting, the plot meanders and, at times, seems to go nowhere. Even when she tries to create the setting for the dead, it is dark, and those in the land of dead "just sit there." Even the protagonist, Roger, does not develop more personality until near the end of the novel. He seems to always linger in the background, and his thoughts are always kept to himself. The language, again, is vivid, but when it leads to the land of the dead, it makes for a dull read. Those teens who are interested in fantasy may find this appealing, but it may have to be pushed. Reviewer: Sherry Rampey
Children's Literature - Elizabeth D. Schafer
Illusions and charades frame Madeleine's narrative reminiscing about her adolescent infatuation with Rogan, her first cousin. Her account begins when the cousins are fourteen years old. Maddy explains that their shared birth date and experiences throughout their childhoods reinforce their feelings of being twins. They live in a Yonkers neighborhood, Arden Terrace, built by their great-grandfather and populated by their kin, descended from a distinguished stage actress whose mansion is Rogan's home. Obsessions and impulsions endanger the cousins as they intensify their intimacy, which Maddy perceives as romantic love, while hiding in a secret room in Rogan's attic filled with family and theatrical heirlooms. Maddy is devoted to Rogan and willingly sacrifices for him even though he rarely reciprocates with equal commitment. The cousins audition for roles in their school's performance of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Like their fictional counterparts, shipwrecked twins Viola and Sebastian, the cousins are also split apart, with Maddy playing Viola and Rogan appearing as the jester Feste. That divisive casting nurtures the cousins' dramatic talents, reveals Rogan's remarkable vocal abilities, and disrupts their version of mythical Illyria. As their Greek tragedy unfolds, Maddy endures losing the connection with Rogan which sustained her emotionally because Rogan fearlessly engages in risky activities and pursues other friendships instead of being with Maddy. Aware of the cousins' fragilities, their Aunt Kate intervenes, hoping to save them from self-inflicted disaster. Morally provocative scenes and themes, including incestuous behavior, are sensitively presented to enable readers to comprehend characters' vulnerabilities, motivations, and aspirations. For literature papers or projects, readers can compare literary elements presented in this novel, especially plot development, characterization, and symbolism, with its inspiration, Twelfth Night. Reviewer: Elizabeth D. Schafer
The Tierney cousins live shrouded in darkness, held together by memories of a great grandmother. The two who keep the family alive are first cousinsand closest friends Madeline and Rogan. When they are both cast in roles in the school production of Twelfth Night, their relationship begins to take a turn from friendship to forbidden love. Obsessed with each other, the two begin down a dangerous path. An intriguing combination of magical realism and a story of illicit love, Illyria at turns surprises and shocks its readers as the characters push the boundaries of acceptability and reality. From magical stages to attic hideaways, Hand traces the characters through their relationships, ultimately shaping a novel that does not simply detail obsession, but one that is unafraid to reveal its consequences as well. Illyria is an excellent novel for any reader caught up in stories about forbidden teen love and romance. Reviewer: Evelyn Baldwin
VOYA - Heather Pittman
Rogan and Maddy are cousins, born on the same day and each the youngest of six children. They live near one another in houses purchased by their great grandmother, a famous stage actress. All the cousins are close, but none are as close as Maddy and Rogan, who are deeply in love by the age of fourteen. Their bond is so deep that they almost live in a different world, one with enchantments only they see. Aunt Kate is the only relative interested in the clan's theatrical past, and she passes her knowledge on to Maddy and Rogan. Cast in the school production of Twelfth Night, Maddy shines, but Rogan is astonishing. His acting ability and singing voice prove him extraordinarily gifted. His personality is wild, reckless, and even addictive, though, so when sponsoring a child to attend acting school in London, Aunt Kate chooses Maddy. The cousins are separated until many years later, when Maddy comes home for Aunt Kate's funeral and finds that Rogan has managed to resurrect some of the magic of their youth. This elegant novella is beautifully written. The characters are fully realized and compelling. Maddy and Rogan's relationship is hauntingly beautiful and unapologetic. The questions of talent and temperament, manipulation by others, the duty they have to each other, and their gifts are all dealt with deftly. This deceptively short piece of fiction contains an enormous story, told simply, but imbued with magic, romance, tragedy and, finally, hope. Reviewer: Heather Pittman
An imaginative dark fantasy is marred by opaque worldbuilding and clunky characterization. For 14 years, people have been taking advantage of Roger's talent to "cross over" to the Land of the Dead, so it's a relief to escape from his brutal uncle into hard labor at the royal laundry. Once there, however, he becomes a pawn between rival queens, while his obsession with a lovely court lady drags him into even more harrowing territory. The premise is fascinating, and the depiction of the afterlife and its oblivious denizens both creepy and eerily serene. Unfortunately, it is poorly integrated with either of the clashing plots of political intrigue and mysterious horror. While some of the characters are compelling, none is particularly likable; just as Roger frequently confesses that he is at a loss to understand their motivations, readers are left equally frustrated. Roger himself is passive, incurious, self-centered and craven, which may be realistic considering past abuse and present dangers, but it makes for an unpleasant narrator. The interesting implications of a matriarchal society are never explored, and the many unresolved questions create more irritation than anticipation for a sequel. Disappointing. (Fantasy. YA)