Saturday, February 23, 2008

Margaret Peterson Haddix

Just Ella
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Recommended Age: 13+

“And they lived happily ever after.” So ends the classic tale of Cinderella. But what if they didn’t live happily ever after? What if it wasn’t a fairy godmother, but her own determination to make her own way into the world, that got Ella to the ball? And what if it wasn’t true love, but short-lived infatuation, that made swept the misused orphan girl into Prince Charming’s arms? What if he wasn’t so charming...what if, in fact, Ella changed her mind about wanting to marry him?

That’s what this story is about. Instead of magic, you have the grit of one girl who is determined not to be stifled by the “proper place for women” in the manners of a medieval castle. Instead of the rags-to-riches story of the cinder-girl who becomes the prince’s bride, you have the riches-to-rags story of a reluctant princess whose dream turns into a nightmare. And instead of a coach turning into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, you have a long, desperate journey under cover of night.

For a truly original take on the Cinderella story, with a modern heroine struggling against medieval constraints, enjoy this brief novel from the author of Running Out of Time.

Running Out of Time
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Recommended Age: 12+

This debut novel by the author of Just Ella is scary, thought-provoking, and exciting. The ultimate fish-out-of-water story, you could look at it as a fantasy novel from the point of view of a child of the 1840’s suddenly thrust into the world of the 1990’s—a tale of survival in a completely alien world. But more likely, you will experience it as a story that seems, at first, to have a historic setting, but that quickly twists itself into a brooding tale of conspiracy, escape, betrayal, and mystery. You might feel a little paranoid by the end, or just a little sad. But I’ll tell you up front, the story’s heroine won’t let you down.

Her name is Jessie, and she lives in the isolated village of Clifton, deep in the Indiana forest. She believes that Martin Van Buren is the President of the United States. (Hint, for the historically-challenged: he was the first President to be photographed.) She believes that words like “okay” and “shut up” are so severely punished because there is something bad about them. She believes that life, everywhere, is about like life in Clifton, where her father is a blacksmith and her mother a midwife.

But when disease threatens the children of Clifton, Jessie’s mother lets her in on a secret. Actually it’s not 1840, but 1996 and they are living in a historic preserve. All their movements are photogaphed by hidden video cameras, and tourists hidden in tunnels beneath the village pay to watch them living authentic historic lives. Only the charade has gone too far. The people in charge won’t even let the children have life-saving medicine that wouldn’t have been available in 1840, though no one worries about dying from diphtheria in the 1990’s. The only thing for it is to send Jessie, in her mother’s old “modern” clothes, over the fence into the modern world to get help. Medical help, and if necessary, legal help.

But this isn’t easy for Jessie. She has never been away from her family before. She has never seen a car, a telephone, or a toilet before. And while she is trying to figure out how to get help in a strange and frightening city, bad people are closing in on her, hoping to silence her before she ruins their hideous experiment.

What is a girl to do, in Jessie’s position? Well, I don’t know what most girls would do, but what Jessie does is worth finding out!

EDIT: Somehow I have managed to overlook Haddix's most celebrated work, the Shadow Children series which, at this writing, carries seven titles all beginning with Among the.... Among her more interestingly-titled books are Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey; The Girl with 500 Middle Names; Leaving Fishers; Escape from Memory; Dexter the Tough; and most recently, Palace of Mirrors.

No comments: