Author: Wendy Delsol
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publication date: October 2010
Hardcover: 355 pages
Family secrets. Lost memories. And the arrival of an ancient magical ability that will reveal everything.
Sixteen-year-old Katla LeBlanc has just moved from Los Angeles to Minnesota. As if it weren’t enough that her trendy fashion sense draws stares, Katla soon finds out that she’s a Stork, a member of a mysterious order of women tasked with a very unique duty. But Katla’s biggest challenge may be finding her flock at a new school. Between being ignored by Wade, the arrogant jock she stupidly fooled around with, and constantly arguing with gorgeous farm boy and editor-in-chief Jack, Katla is relieved when her assignment as the school paper’s fashion columnist brings with it some much-needed friendship. But as Homecoming approaches, Katla uncovers a shocking secret about her past — a secret that binds her fate to Jack’s in a way neither could have ever anticipated. With a nod to Hans Christian Andersen and inspired by Norse lore, Wendy Delsol’s debut novel introduces a hip and witty heroine who finds herself tail-feathers deep in small-town life.
Stand alone or series: First in the Stork series
How did I get this book: Review copy from publisher.
Why did we read this book: I’ve had this book since last year and it has been gathering dust on my TBR shelf for a while. I only read good reviews of it and I kept meaning to read it but the time never seemed right. Now, the sequel is coming in October and I thought I should finally give it a go.
In retrospect, I should have known.
I should have known that a book about storks and pregnancy and babies would drive me bananas but alas, the promise of the combination of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen with Norse/Icelandic Mythology plus the positive reviews Stork received all over the place made it too hard for me to pass this one up. So here I am ….ready to talk about the book but the more I think about it, the less I like it. In fact, I think I should issue a fair warning: there will be spoilers. There will be Caps Lock of DOOM. Above all, there will be ranting.
But before anything else, perhaps a summary is in order. After Katla LeBlanc’s parents divorce, she is dragged by her mom to a small town in Minnesota, a town with Icelandic roots. Coming from sunny, modern, fashionable LA, Katla feels like a complete outsider. But then she is told that she is a Stork and that she is to be a member of an ancient order of women tasked with a very important duty. In between trying to perform her surreal duties and finding new friends, Katla will also find herself attracted to Jack, a local boy with a secret …..yadda yadda yadda sparks will fly or something.
Right, first the good. I actually really liked the writing which is the sole reason why I managed to read Stork to the end. It was gripping and entertaining. I also appreciated how Katla was this really cool girl who is passionate about fashion (despite all the brand-name dropping which is something that will make this book dated in no time at all. Also, really hard for non-Americans to get all the local brands. But I digress) and plans to go to college in Paris. She is funny, smart, even if a bit dismissive of small towns with their lack of Starbucks and shopping malls – which is totally understandable if you ask me. She is also great in the way that she can take care of herself – in basically any situation and is no wilting flower waiting to be rescued. And to be honest, I hoped that the premise would be decently executed because really? A heroine who is a stork? In one word: UNIQUE.
Which brings me to the three things that didn’t work for me: the role the storks played; the world-building; the romance.
Let’s start with the premise. Do you know the old wives’ tale that says that storks deliver newborn babies to their mothers? Well, the storks here do a lot more than that. A stork will at some point, dream about an unborn baby who needs to find a potential family. After dreaming about the soul of this baby, the stork will then dream about 3 potential vessels. After that the stork needs to decide which of three she would like to recommend to the council of storks so that they can VOTE yes or no. Each dream will come full of symbolism which will help the storks deciding how best to combine the soul of each of the babies with the best prospective mothers.
Shall we start with… vessel? VESSEL???? As in the BLOOD VESSEL THAT IS ABOUT TO BURST IN MY BRAIN? It has to be because surely, we cannot be implying that those women are empty containers ready to be filled with a baby? Putting the poor choice of word (I can be so diplomatic when I want) aside, there is this idea of fate and destiny surrounding the premise and I felt that the mothers have little to no choice in the matter when it comes to being pregnant. This council of sage women decide on their behalf and they go through all the reasons why a woman should or should not “get” the soul of a baby. Here is an example of a stork society meeting: one of the storks has dreamed about the soul of a boy (who will be “gifted in music, but someone to whom words will come slowly”) and the prospective vessels:
“A thirty-year-old mother of three girls. Her husband pines for a boy. A twenty-nine-year-old single woman, who has lost herself in her career. A thirty-eitght-year-old who has, four times, endured artificial insemination. The husband has been incredibly patient.”
“And you have a recommendation for us?” asked Hulda.
“The thirty-year-old,” replied Dorit. “She has waited so long”
(Can I take one moment to go over this? THE HUSBAND HAS BEEN INCREDIBLY PATIENT???? THE HUSBAND???? Like, it is her FAULT that she can’t get pregnant? Is HE the one enduring artificial insemination? Being poked and probed? I THINK NOT).
Still being diplomatic: I find this whole idea and its implications, slightly uncomfortable. I am firmly pro-choice and the whole idea behind the premise of this book just goes against everything I believe in.
Which brings me to the problems I had with the world-building. So, you have this council of wise women deciding which mother gets which baby. The decision seems to be guided from somewhere within each stork and according to Katla, it actually feels like being “guided by someone else” and afterward there is a feeling of “rightness”. My question is: how can there be any real decision when you are being guided by an unseen…additional force? To me, this automatically excludes any potential source of conflict stemming from making a wrong choice because there is no possibility of a wrong choice: it is DESTINY. And WHY do they need 3 potential vessels for??? Doesn’t that make the whole process slower considering the amount of people in the world?
Furthermore: this seems to be exclusively an Icelandic thing – so what happens to babies and women all over the world where there are no Icelandic connections? Are there councils everywhere, one in every town? How many storks are necessary to take care of the entire world? In all fairness at one point it is hinted that only the souls in need of guidance need the help of storks but…why exactly? How does one qualify a soul in need of guidance? What happens to all the other unborn babies, how do they find families?
Another question: What do the Norse mythos of Jack Frost and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen have to do with…. storks and babies?
As far as I can see?? NOTHING. And they continue to have nothing in common even after a whole book is written that is supposed to combine all three. But this combination is so tenuous as to be almost non-existent. There is very, very little of The Snow Queen in this story to the point where I see no reason at all to even bring it up. The Norse mythology comes in the form of Jack Frost or its current incarnation and also with the manner in which the villain of this piece wants immortality and to open the Bifrost bridge between Midgard (our Earth) and Asgard (where the Gods inhabit). Fine, awesome, great idea (I am not being ironic). But do you know what angers me? The fact that the villains are ravens because ravens are evil! BUT this is supposed to be Norse Mythology: SO WHY ARE RAVENS EVIL when they are of utmost importance to Norse Mythology? Odin, one of the main Gods in this pantheon relies completely on the ravens Huginn and Muninn as his ears and eyes (or if you want to be metaphorical, they are the embodiments of thought and memory). See the importance?
I am not saying that things are set in stone and mythologies are holy and shouldn’t be changed or anything like that. But there is no explanation why ravens are evil within a context that is purposely using Norse mythology as inspiration. Want ravens to be evil? FINE. Then come up with something to explain why these ravens are evil. Like, for example, they got sick and tired of serving Odin and decided to create havoc between Midgard and Asgard or SOMETHING. I would be totally cool with this. Not…simply say that they are evil and that’s it.
Sometimes I feel I take things far too seriously. And I am sorry to be a downer, I am sorry to be so incisive but after reading so many badly done retellings or mythology-inspired stories lately it’s really starting to sound like authors are just randomly taking bits and pieces of random mythology and sticking them together like some kind of frankenmythos and it just doesn’t work. At least, obviously, it doesn’t work for me.
I’ve already written far too much but haven’t even touched on the subject of romance. I won’t dwell on it: suffice it to say that there is little development and a lot of “we are meant to be together.” Jack feels this connection to Katla and has felt it since the first time he laid eyes on her when they were 12. Now, Jack is a 16 year old boy who has never hooked up with anyone because he has been saving himself for her. Romantic? Some may say so. I think it is sad. As sad as I felt when it became clear that Katla started to lose some of the unique personality traits she had when the novel started, after falling in love with Jack. And who knows if she will ever really go to the Sorbonne now that she found the love of her life…at 16.
Maybe all these questions will be answered in the sequel. Maybe there will be some awesome conflict. Maybe it will be explained WHY is Katla’s youth so important to the council. Maybe, maybe, maybe. I will never know.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From the opening chapter:
One moment I was fine, and the next it felt like an army of fire ants was marching across my head. Seriously. Fire ants wearing combat boots – heavy, cleated combat boots. I’d never experienced anything like it. I scratched at my scalp until my hand cramped. It didn’t help. I turned, and the mirror behind the cash register confirmed my suspi- cions: along with the crazy rash creeping from under my hairline, I also had claw marks. Any other head of hair would conceal such blemishes. Not mine. My towheaded, sun-fearing ancestors had seen to that.
I opened the cupboard under the register. Where was that woolen beret I’d seen? Crimson red with a small loop on top. A bit of a fashion stretch, even for me. Oh, well. This town already thought I was odd, the suspicious package dropped at their door. I shrugged the hat over my head. It provided no relief, but at least it covered the damage.
Where the heck was that delivery? My afi – my grandfather – had told me I could close as soon as Snjosson Farms delivered the apples. I looked at the old clock above the candy counter. Nine o’clock. Afi had said the bushels would arrive at seven.
Hoping to see headlights barreling down Main, I looked outside. Across the street, a light in Hulda’s Fab- ric and Notions caught my eye. No way. I’d been waiting for a sign of life in the place for weeks. The going-out- of-business sign and unclaimed bolts of fabric, glorious pristine fabric, had been taunting me as a bargain oppor- tunity. I quickly scribbled Back in five on a piece of paper and taped it to the door. Snjosson Farms and their golden pippins could wait.
Clutching my Juicy Couture velour jacket to my throat, I hurried across the road. Dang, it was cold. Mid- September and already something the Minnesota yokels called an Alberta Clipper was bearing down from the north. In California I’d still be in shorts, spaghetti straps, and flip-flops.
A chime tinkled above my head as I stepped over the threshold.
Holy crap. It smelled worse than my grandfather’s store, something I hadn’t thought possible. Like some- thing died. No. Worse. Like something got caught in the act of dying – some long, lingering, putrefying fade. I knew the feeling. For me it was junior year at Norse Falls High School. Exile High, as I liked to call it.
Rating: 4 – Bad but not without SOME merit
Reading next: Life: an Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
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