Sunday, September 23, 2007

Letters from Rapunzel: A Long, Hard Fall

At first glance, Letters from Rapunzel, by debut novelist Sara Lewis Holmes, seems like just my kind of book. Contemporary fiction. A strong-willed, smart female main character. Lots of humor. Even a discussion of word origins.

But. (You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?) But … it deals with one of those “serious topics” … depression.

I know depression is an important subject. I know it can have devastating effects on those who struggle with it, as well as on their families and friends. I know it’s something kids need to be able to learn about … something that should be written about and talked about and brought out into the open.

But. I don’t want to read about it.

Along come this Sara Lewis Holmes person, with her first published book ever, and she tricks me into reading a novel about something I do not want to read about.

Its breezy references to fairy tales. Its distinctive voice. Its unusual format (a series of letters). Its offbeat observations on life. Its suspenseful climax. Even its sweet, girly cover (OK, that’s probably not entirely Sara’s fault, but couldn’t she have requested that the artist make it darker, more sinister?)

The point is, in the final analysis, all of these wonderful qualities constitute a massive disguise for what is really a discussion of an important topic that made me think and possibly even reconsider some of my preconceptions about mental illness!

By the time I realized what was happening, it was too late. It was like a charm, a spell. I had gotten too far into the book and could not stop reading. So let this be a warning to you. If you prefer to avoid “serious” topics, do not fall for this book!


Danette Haworth said...

Too late! You've tricked me into adding it to my library list!

Andie K. said...

Ooh, I know exactly what you mean!! I picked up a book about fairies once, looked like a funny chick lit - guess what - suicide and sexual abuse. Come on people!

I like to read to get out of the dullness of real life, not delve into the horrors of another.

I think it's great that books deal with these topics, but I wholeheartedly agree - please just let us know!

LindaBudz said...

Hmm, suicide and sexual abuse ... that's pretty rough.

Actually, I didn't so much mind being tricked by this book.

I generally read for escapism, so I most likely would not knowingly pick up a book about a girl dealing with her dad's depression. Just not my thing.

But here, the author somehow managed to write the kind of book I DO like while still dealing with that topic. It really is funny and silly and suspenseful in all the right places. And in the end, it's not a downer as I might expect from your typical "issue" book, but is very positive.

Mary Witzl said...

I agree with you about the cover: I've seen this, and it does make you think that the theme of the book is going to be light and 'girlie,' for lack of a better word.

But I also agree with Danette: now that I've read your review, I want to read the book. Sometimes it's better to be gently, almost insidiously, educated. And only a really good writer can pull this off without making the reader feel like she's been whacked over the head with an issue.

LindaBudz said...

Insidious ... great word!


It amazes me that she was able to write an "issue" book that I thoroughly enjoyed. I'm still not sure how she managed it!

Lauren said...

Sounds like a great book! I love fairy tales redone.

Katia said...

Mm, now, I really want to read this book. That said, I'm quite the opposite. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I translate trash novels for a living, but for me, reading is about learning. Fine if it's distracting. And if it's fun, great! I love a good laugh like everyone else. BUT I still need to feel that I'm learning something, and I mean something about the real world, about reality, about people and why they do what they do. So, I'm putting this book at the top of my reading list. Thanks for mentioning it, Linda.