Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication date: April 1 2013
Hardcover: 384 pages
The first in a rousing, funny, genre-busting trilogy from bestseller Jaclyn Moriarty!
This is a tale of missing persons. Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life, under mysterious circumstances, and settled in a rainy corner of Cambridge (in our world).
Elliot, on the other hand, is in search of his father, who disappeared on the night his uncle was found dead. The talk in the town of Bonfire (in the Kingdom of Cello) is that Elliot’s dad may have killed his brother and run away with the Physics teacher. But Elliot refuses to believe it. And he is determined to find both his dad and the truth.
As Madeleine and Elliot move closer to unraveling their mysteries, they begin to exchange messages across worlds — through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries. But even greater mysteries are unfolding on both sides of the gap: dangerous weather phenomena called “color storms;” a strange fascination with Isaac Newton; the myth of the “Butterfly Child,” whose appearance could end the droughts of Cello; and some unexpected kisses…
Stand alone or series: First in the Colours of Madeleine Trilogy
How did I get this book: Review copy via Netgalley
Format (e- or p-): eARC
Why did I read this book: I can’t begin to express how much I love Moriarty’s Ashbury/Brookfield series. She is an amazing writer of nuanced works and I will read anything she writes. So yeah.
As usual, when it comes to a Jaclyn Moriarty book, I find myself not knowing if I have the right words to express the awesomeness.
BUT I WILL TRY, dear readers, just for you.
I just don’t know where exactly do I begin as there is so much to unpack in terms of characterisation, narrative, world-building, setting, themes.
Maybe literally with: “where”.
The World: our world, more specifically Cambridge, England. This is where Madeleine Tully lives with her mother, who seems to be losing her mind. They have run away from a rich, privileged life, away from Madeleine’s father and now are trying to make ends meet living in a dingy flat where they eat baked beans every day. Madeleine is homeschooled together with her two new friends Jack and Belle. Jack is kind of in love with Madeleine but Belle is suspicious of Madeleine’s stories. Madeleine wears all the colours of the world because she sees no colours in the world around her. She wants to go back home so maybe her father will come and rescue them if she apologies for running away.
The Kingdom of Cello: more specifically Bonfire, the Farms. A world where seasons change randomly, where crops are failing and everybody is waiting for the Butterfly Child to come and save them and where Colours are monsters. This is where Elliot Baranski lives with his mother after his father disappeared a few months before and after his uncle was killed in a Purple attack. Everybody thinks his father – a known womaniser – ran away with the school teacher who also disappeared that night, but Elliot knows different and is adamant a Purple has taken his father. He plans on rescuing him and proving everybody wrong.
Through time, The World has forgotten everything about the Kingdom of Cello but Cello’s citizens still study The World in their history lessons.
And now, there is a crack between these worlds and a mysterious random (at first) note slips through. Madeleine finds it and writes back…her letter is found by Elliot who knows Madeleine is in the World even though Madeleine doesn’t believe a world Elliot is saying about Cello. Nonetheless, the two strike up a correspondence and through these letters develop a strangely compelling relationship, helping each other along the way.
A Corner of White is an interesting hybrid of Fantasy and Contemporary YA. The latter comes through in the way that explores certain themes like self-identity, growing up, relating to others. Although those are obviously not exclusive themes to Contemporary YA, there are still typical of the subgenre and deftly explored here.
The Kingdom of Cello is a fantastical place with Fantasy elements that appear outlandish and random at first (colours as monsters! seasons that roam! a fantastical fairy-child that appears out of nowhere inside a glass jar!) but one which has a very specific set of rules. Although these rules have little to do with Science – which is what holds The World together.
Or so it seems. Science plays a huge role here because in The World Madeleine is studying Isaac Newton for her history class, and becomes more and more interested in the science of colours which she shares in her letters to Elliot. This appears random at first, like ramblings of a kid that doesn’t have a real footing in the world and who seeks reasons and roots through history and learning.
I don’t know physics enough to be able to tell if Newton’s concepts of Optics and colours have been used correctly but it seems to me that this is beyond the point: to see these kids engaging with these concepts is more interesting to me than anything else. Similarly, Madeleine’s friends Jack and Belle also become wholly interested in the two people they are studying, Byron and Ada Lovelace respectively. Random at first, these historical characters become intrinsically meshed into the narrative and into these three kids’ arcs in a way that is intriguing and thoughtful.
A Corner of White is also a hybrid in how it combines two narrative formats. Most of the novel is narrated by a kind of omniscient narrator who informs the story from different characters’ viewpoints. As such, Elliot and Madeleine might be the focus of the narrative but there are those parts from Jack and Belle’s point of view in the World and from Sheriff Hector’s in Cello. Hector’s narrative appears random at first as do Jack and Belle’s in the way these seems to be related to nothing at all of import.
But part of the book is also told in epistolary format and interspersed in the narrative are the letters between Elliot and Madeleine, newspapers clippings following the Royal Princesses travels around Cello in a journey that is random (at first) as well as bits from a travel book about Cello. If you know anything at all about Jaclyn Moriarty, you will probably know she is a genius when it comes to crafting epistolary narratives, specially the way that those relates to the plot and the characters. It’s no different here.
“Random at first”.
How many times have I used these words in this review so far? Just like the topics I addressed in this way, my choice of using these words is not random at all. Because in fact, in this book? Everything is important. Every single thing that at first appears random, is not.
A Corner of White is a book that expects a certain level of commitment and patience from its readers. And maybe not everybody might be invested in the type of story it tells or have the patience to see it unfold slowly. Slowly is the key word here because the stories, or rather the story it tells (because it’s just one, really, at the end of the day) is developed carefully and insidiously.
This is a book that is built on appearances and assumptions .
Nothing is like what it seems. The narrative is unreliable because everybody in this book is an unreliable narrator. Not because they mean to be but because nobody truly knows each other or in a way, themselves. Relationships are built based on misperceptions, a character appears silly and wacky when observed by another character but completely different when the viewpoint changes.
Above all, I absolutely loved how this was played into the story, which is full of moments of ambiguity. You might think you are reading about a random tea party in Grantchester but that can be interpreted as people developing roots and connections. That random sound that a character describes and it appears as an inconsequential piece of information, is not.
Similarly, the way characters perceive each other and the way external expectations are played here? Brilliant.
Take Elliot, for example, who is the golden boy of Bonfire. People expect great things from him; he is the best at everything (is he?). His friends, his mother all conflate his appearance as well as his physical resemblance to his father with who he is and as such everybody tells him that he is going to break his girlfriend’s heart because he is bound to be a womaniser. This obviously plays into a historical narrative that often gives power to the man as though he is the only one with the power in the dynamics of his relationships. But the narrative here turns this into its head, as Elliot is someone who actually truly loves his girlfriend and the one who ends up with a broken heart after his girlfriend makes the decision to go to university far away. And even though he eventually walks into that role he is expected to play, it is not for the reasons people ascribe to him or results in the expected way.
Those external expectations and interpretations are also at play here when it comes to reading the book. Is that character truly superficial or you think they are because of the way said character plays with the stereotype of superficiality?
What strikes me the most about A Corner of White is how very human a story this is. Populated with characters that make mistakes, change their minds, who learn that it takes time to grow up, and who often don’t see people for who they are but for what they hope them to be.
It also helps that as the story progresses, it becomes evident that there is something much larger at play between the worlds and that the limits of monarchy as a government form, the principles of freedom fighting, the consequences of privilege, the reality of poverty are very much part of this story as well.
On the downside, I missed the wonderful ways that Moriarty has developed friendships and relationships between girlfriends in her previous books. Perhaps this will be further developed in the next book. I also wished that her worlds were more diverse and not so uniformly white.
If you like Hilary Mckay, Megan Whalen Turner, Jennifer Nielsen and the way their books play with narrative in clever ways? You must read this.
Colour me (sorry, inevitable pun) completely in love with this. A Corner of White is definitely a Notable Read of 2013 and don’t be surprised if it makes its way into my top 10.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
FROM THE KINGDOM OF CELLO: AN ILLUSTRATED TRAVEL GUIDE, BY T.I. CANDLE, 7TH EDITION, © 2012, REPRINTED WITH KIND PERMISSION, BRELLIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, T.I. CANDLE.
The Kingdom of Cello (pronounced ‘Chello’) needs no introduction.
WHEN TO VISIT
Look, in all honesty, visit Cello when you have the time. It’s a popular tourist destination all year round, so there’s no ‘peak’ or ‘shoulder’ or ‘off ’ season. (No seasons at all, as a matter of fact, at least not in the traditional sense.)
I suppose there are various festivals you might like to see, but I can’t think why. These invariably take place in the villages and towns of the Farms, and if there’s one province in Cello that you’ll want to skip, it’s the Farms.
Hold on a moment, what can I be thinking? The Farms! Why, you’ll love them! The golden wheat fields, the cherry orchards, the laconic grins and ambling gaits of the Farmers! As the provincial motto promises: ‘Sure as hokey-pokey, the Farms’ll charm the heart right out of your belly.’
Not too great with anatomy in the Farms, but those Farmers are the most endearing bunch of muffin-baking, pastry-making, fiddle-playing folk you’ll ever meet.
(Blahdy, blahdy, hooray for Farmers! Blah, blah, pumpkin pie! etc.)
(Seriously, though, if you’re short on time, give the Farms a miss.)
WHY VISIT CELLO?
The question is wrong. Correct question: why would you not visit Cello? Keeping in mind that you can always skip the Farms, why on earth would you not visit Cello?
Additional Thoughts: We are a stop on The Colours of Madeleine Blog Tour today, with a guest post from Jaclyn Moriarty and we are giving away a super cool prize which includes a copy of the book. Go HERE to check it out.
Rating: 8 – Excellent, leaning toward 9
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