In her extraordinary and often dark first novel, award-winning story writer Lanagan (Red Spikes) creates two worlds: the first a preindustrial village that might have sprung from a Brueghel canvas, a place of victims and victimizers; the second a personal heaven granted to Liga Longfield, who has survived her father's molestations and a gang rape but, with one baby and pregnant again, cannot risk any further pain. As she raises her two daughters, placid Branza and fiery Urdda, she discovers that her universe is permeable: a dwarf or "littlee man," in Lanagan's characteristically knotted parlance, slips in and out of her world in search of treasure; and a good-hearted youth also enters, magically transformed into a bear in the process. A less kind man-bear follows, and then a teenage Urdda, avid for a richer life with the "vivid people," figures out how to pass through the border, too. Writing in thick, clotted prose that holds the reader to a slow pace, Lanagan explores the savage and the gentlest sides of human nature, and how they coexist. With suggestions of bestiality and sodomy, the novel demands maturity-but the challenging text will attract only an ambitious audience anyway. Ages 14-up. (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
VOYA - Sarah Flowers
At the heart of this brilliant novel is the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red, but Lanagan builds out from it in all directions. When fifteen-year-old Liga's life in this world becomes unbearable-she has one daughter conceived in incest and is pregnant with another as a result of a gang rape-she intends to throw herself off a cliff. Instead she has an encounter with a strange being and wakes up in her own personal heaven-the world looks the same but without any of the people or things that could harm her. She happily raises her daughters Branza and Urdda there, unaware that the line between her world and the real world is occasionally porous. A greedy dwarf and two bears who are really transformed men are the catalysts for the three women's journey back to the real world, where they must learn how to live among other people-the good and the bad. Lanagan creates a rich and complex world, packed with fully realized characters. Her writing is so beautiful that even the most brutal and painful scenes are not graphic or sordid but heartbreaking. Older teens, especially fans of fairy-tale retellings, will want to immerse themselves in Liga's two worlds. This book is one that will stay with the reader for a long time. Reviewer: Sarah Flowers
Children's Literature - Paula McMillen
In the first two chapters of this book, fourteen-year-old Liga endures two herbally-induced abortions, repeated rape by her father, andafter he has been killed and she has carried the last pregnancy to terma gang rape by the local "village lads." Driven to near madness, and pregnant again from the gang rape, she seeks to end her life and the lives of her born and yet-unborn "babs" by jumping off a cliff. But magical forces suspend her from death and give her two jewels to "plant." Liga's world is thus transformed into her personal version of heaven, somewhat like the situation in Sebold's The Lovely Bones. Liga's heaven is gentle and predictable. All of the cruel people are gone from the nearby village of St. Olafred, and only grassy parks remain where their houses stood. Here, people still make their living as wool merchants and laundresses, and creating fine embroidery can provide a living. Liga's daughters, fair-haired, gentle Branza and wild, dark-haired Urdda, grow to be teenagers in this safe place. Then, the boundaries between the "true world" and Liga's are breached, first by a greedy "little man" seeking treasure, and then by various men-turned-bears. Adventurous Urdda escapes to the more vivid, exciting, and dangerous version of the world, leaving her mother and sister grieving until they too are thrust back into reality. When Urdda learns of her origins, she unwittingly takes revenge on the men who harmed her mother as her previously unknown magical powers take on a life of their own. Relations between bears, wolf and women are highly sexualized though never consummated. The language is a well-crafted variation on old English that sometimes feels tediousand sometimes seems positively poetic. The worlds and characters created are complex and complete. The emotional experience ranges across the spectrum: despair, anger, sorrow, fear, love, and joy. This is a challenging and unforgettable read. It seems an unlikely recommendation for male readers and would be appropriate only for the most mature and determined female fans of fantasy. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up
A traumatized teen mother magically escapes to her own personal heaven in this daring and deeply moving fantasy. The characters, setting, much of the action, and even the very words of the title are taken from the Grimm Brothers' "Snow-White and Rose-Red," a sweet story of contrasting sisters who live deep in the forest and whose innocent hearts are filled with compassion for a lonely bear and an endangered dwarf. In the novel, Liga's daughters-one born of incest, the other of gang rape-first flourish in Liga's safe world. But encounters with magical bears and the crusty dwarf challenge them to see a world beyond their mother's secure dreamscape. Eventually the younger one, Urdda, and subsequently her sister and Liga are drawn back into the real world in which cruelty, hurt, and prejudice abound. But it is also only there that they can experience the range of human emotion, develop deep relationships, and discover who they truly are. The opening chapters vividly portray the emotional experience of a boy's first sexual encounter, mind-numbing abuse by Liga's father, and a violent gang rape. It's heavy fare even for sophisticated readers, but the author hits all the right notes, giving voice to both the joys and terrors that sexual experience can bestow without saying more than readers need to know to be fully with the characters. While the story explores what it means to be human, it is at its heart an incisive exploration of the uses and limitations of dissociation as a coping mechanism. Beautifully written and surprising, this is a novel not to be missed.-Carolyn Lehman, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA
Lanagan's debut U.S. novel after three spectacular short-story collections, including the Printz Honor-winning Black Juice (2005), scintillates, titillates and altogether wows. Her trademark linguistic gyrations bring life to this reimagined, utterly fresh take on "Snow White and Rose Red." When an unknown power grants Liga her own personal heaven after she is first abused by her father and then gang-raped, she unknowingly ruptures the reality of St. Olafred's. Weaving together multiple characters—Liga, her two daughters, several men transformed into bears by magic gone awry and more—this is ultimately a tale of how the finite worlds of experience bind the infinite worlds of possibility. The author creates worlds with a sure hand, incorporating magic as well as the mundane, ugly realities: jeering boys, poverty, gossip. Similarly, her characters are fully realized people who also fulfill their fairy-tale roles. By turns horrifying and ribald, witty and wise, this tour de force of a novel almost demands multiple readings to fully appreciate each of its layers. Not to be missed. (Fantasy. 15 & up)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Booklist, August 1, 2008:
“A marvel to read and will only further solidify Lanagan’s place at the very razor’ s edge of YA speculative fiction.”
Starred Review, The Horn Book Magazine, September/October 2008:
"Lanagan's poetic style and her masterful employment of mythic imagery give this story of transformation and healing extraordinary depth and beauty."
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, September 8, 2008:
"Lanagan explores the savage and the gentlest sides of human nature, and how they coexist."
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2008:
"By turns horrifying and ribald, witty and wise, this tour de force of a novel almost demands multiple readings to fully appreciate each of its layers."
Starred Review, School Library Journal, November 2008:
"Beautifully written and surprising, this is a novel not to be missed."
Read an Excerpt
Liga’s father fiddled with the fire, fiddled and fiddled. Then he stood up, very suddenly.
“I will fetch more wood.”
What’s he angry about? Liga wondered. Or worried, or something. He is being very odd.
Snow-light rushed in, chilling the house. Then he clamped the door closed and it was cozy again, cozy and empty of him. Liga took a deep private breath then blew it out, slowly. Just these few moments would be her own.
But her next breath caught rough in her throat. She opened her eyes. Gray smoke was cauliflowering out of the fireplace, fogging the air. The smell! What unnamable rubbish had fallen in the fire?
She coughed so hard she must put aside the rush mat she was binding the edge of and give her whole body over to the coughing. Then pain caught her, low, and folded her just like a rush-stalk, it felt, in a line across her belly, crushing her innards. She could hardly get breath to cough. Sparks that were not from the fire jiggled and swam in her eyes—she could not see the fire for the smoke. She could not believe what she was feeling.
The pain eased just as abruptly. It let her get up. It gave her a moment to stagger to the door and open it, her insides dangerous, liquid, hot with surprise and readying to spasm again.
Her father was halfway back from the woodpile, his arms full. He bared his teeth at her, no less. “What you doing out?” White puffs came with the words. “Get back inside. Who said you could come out?”
“I cannot breathe in there.” The cold air dived down her throat and she coughed again.
“Then go in and don’t breathe! Shut the door—you’re letting the smoke out. You’re letting the heat.” He dropped the wood in the snow.
“Has the chimney fallen in? Or what is it?” She wanted to step farther out and look.
But he sprang over the logs and ran at her. She was too surprised to fight him, and her insides were too delicate. The icicled edge of the thatch swept down across the heavy sky, and she was on the floor, the door slammed closed above her. It was dark after the snow-glare, the air thick with the billowing smoke. Outside, he shouted—she could not hear the words—and hurled his logs one by one at the door.
She pressed her nose and mouth into the crook of her elbow, but she had already gulped smoke. It sank through to her deepest insides, and there it clasped its thin black hands, all knuckles and nerves, and wrung them, and wrung them.
Time stretched and shrank. She seemed to stretch and shrink. The pain pressed her flat, the crashing of the wood. Da muttered out there, muttered forever; his muttering had begun before her thirteen years had, and she would never hear the end of it; she must simply be here while it rose from blackness and sank again like a great fish into a lake, like a great water snake. Then Liga’s belly tightened again, and all was gone except the red fireworks inside her. The smoke boiled against her eyes and fought in her throat.
The pains resolved themselves into a movement, of innards wanting to force out. When she next could, she crawled to the door and threw her fists, her shoulder, against it. Was he out there anymore? Had he run off and left her imprisoned? “Let me out or I will shit on the floor of your house!”
There was some activity out there, scraping of logs, thuds of them farther from the door. White light sliced into the smoke. Out Liga blazed, in a dirty smoke-cloud, clambering over the tumbled wood, pushing past him, pushing past his eager face.
But it was too late for the cold, clean air to save her; her insides had already come loose. She could not run or she would shake them out. Already they were drooling down her legs. She must clamp her thighs together to hold them in, and yet walk, and yet hurry, to the part of the forest edge they used for their excrements.
She did not achieve it. She fell to her knees in the snow. Inside her skirt, so much of her boiling self fell away that she felt quite undone below the waist, quite shapeless. No, look: sturdy hips. Look: a leg on either side. A blue-gray foot there, the other there. Gingerly, Liga sat back in a crouch to lift her numbing knees off the snow. The black trees towered in front of her, and the snow dazzled all around. She heaved and brought up nothing but spittle, but more of her was pushed out below by the heaving.
She crouched, panting. From her own noises she knew she had become some kind of animal; she had fallen as low as she could from the life she had had before Mam died. Everything had slid from there, out of prosperity, out of town, out of safety, when Mam went, and this was where of course it ended, with Liga an animal in the snow, tearing herself to pieces with the wrongness of everything.
With one last heave, her remaining insides dropped out of her. She knelt over their warmth, folded herself down, and waited to die.
But she did not die there. The snow pained against her forehead and her knees, and the fallen mass of her innards began to lose its heat in the tent of her skirt.
She tried to lift herself off it. At first her knees would not unbend, so she tipped herself forward onto her front . . . paws, they felt like, her front claws. And hoisted her bottom up from there.
“Oh, my Gracious Lady.” Her voice sounded drunken and flat. Between pink footprints, her innards lay glossy and dark red. Her feet were purple, blotched yellow, weak and wet with melting pink snow.
She should go back to the house—that was all she knew. And so she labored towards it, top-heavy, slick-thighed, numb-footed, and hollow, glancing behind as if afraid the thing would follow her, along its own pink trail.
Da snatched the door open as soon as she touched it. He stood there, hands on hips. “What’s a-matter with you?” The air around him was clear and warm; in the crook of his arm, the fire flowed brightly up around the new logs. Would he even let her in?
From the Hardcover edition.