8 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

A Corner of WhiteTitle: A Corner of White

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:


The Kingdom of Cello (pronounced ‘Chello’) needs no intro­duction.

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.)

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

Buy the Book:

(click on the links to purchase)

Ebook available for kindle US, nook

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  • Elaine
    April 3, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Wow, I’m so glad to read this review.
    I’ve been waiting for this book ever since I read the synopsis because it reminded me so much of His Dark Materials, my fave series.
    I’ve never read Jaclyn Moriarty before so I guess I’ve got a lot to look forward to.

  • Eliza
    April 3, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Oh my gosh, I didn’t think it was possible for me to become any more excited about this book but this review did it. Between the new Kat book and a new Jaclyn Moriarty book, I’m in a fan girl flutter waiting for them both to come into the library. In fact, if they take to long I may just break down and buy them budget be damned!

    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. This is what is making me so much more excited. I love when an author respects the readers enough to allow them to take a long but careful journey to a well thought out end. That’s one of things things I loved about the Ashbury/Brookfield series was the slow buildup of character and story development and how they all came together in the end. But, here’s the key to the genius of her writing, you were never frustrated while the story was building. The story and characters were strong enough to pull you along.

    Elaine – you have so much to look forward to if you’ve never read Jaclyn Moriarty’s books before. I heartily recommend the Ashbury/Brookfield books also – especially if you love epistolary books.


  • Ana
    April 3, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Oh Elaine, I just wish I could go back in time and read my first Moriarty book all over again.

    Eliza: “That’s one of things things I loved about the Ashbury/Brookfield series was the slow buildup of character and story development and how they all came together in the end. ”

    and then BOOM, moment of revelation. Like when you realise that Bindy M. is MADE OF AWESOME.

  • Angie
    April 3, 2013 at 11:38 am

    A Corner of White is a book that expects a certain level of commitment and patience from its readers.

    This is my favorite line from your review. And one of my favorite qualities in any book.

    I have an ARC of this sitting nearby. Need to get to it!

  • Linda W
    April 3, 2013 at 11:44 am

    I loved Jaclyn’s Ashbury/Brookfield books also, so this new book excites me to no end. I love epistolary books, so this is a must read.

  • Deena M.
    April 3, 2013 at 11:46 am

    “The narrative is unreliable because everybody in this book is an unreliable narrator”

    When you say this, it reminds me of how Wuthering Heights was written and delivered by 2 “unreliable” narrators with very unreliable versions of what had happened.

    I do hope the book is good. I’m not one to sit around and wait for something to happen.

  • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard
    April 3, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Wow. Just wow. This is the second awesome, incredibly-written review I’ve read today (not of this book, of *any* book.) And just as the other review made me absolutely determined to read that book (Wendy Darling of The Midnight Garden, on the third Lumatere book), so your review has left me determined to read A Corner of White. Mind you, I already had it on my TBR list. But now? Now I’m moving it up, and begging/buying/stealing (well, no, not stealing) a copy as soon as I can.

  • Brandy
    April 3, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Nicely done. I’m impressed as I was not able to get my own scattered thoughts in this much order. I like how you mention Hilary McKay in your list of similar type authors. I hadn’t made that connection, but yes. Her readers are a good match for this I think.

  • Maggie, Young Adult Anonymous
    April 4, 2013 at 1:56 am

    Ana, I love this review. I reread Year of Secret Assignments over the weekend and fell in love with her words and characters all over again. I love that her writing feels so free and unfettered by traditional rules or expectations.

  • Hannah
    April 4, 2013 at 7:35 am

    Oh my goodness, this looks like a really exciting read! I read and loved “Feeling Sorry for Celia” many years ago and it’s still a favourite, but I haven’t read any other Jaclyn Moriarty yet. Clearly I’m going to have to rectify this!

  • Eliza
    April 4, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Hannah – If you liked the first one you have to read the rest of the books in Ashbury/Brookfield series. They may be read as stand alone but are so much better read together. As mentioned above, it’s her deep character development that’s so satisfying. I’m sure you’ll love them as much as Ana and I did. Check out her clever review of the series. It’s what convinced me to read them and I’m so glad I did.

  • Hannah
    April 5, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Thanks for that link, Eliza! Ana’s review has definitely clinched it for me. I loved the epistolary style of Feeling Sorry for Celia, so I think the later books will suit me down to the ground. Time to get hold of Finding Cassie Crazy!

  • Marg
    April 6, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    I liked this book, but didn’t love it as much as you clearly did. What really saved it for me was the twist in the end! Oh my goodness, I wanted the next book as soon as I read that part!

  • The Hipster Owl's Bookshelf
    April 12, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    I want this book! Is it only available in ebook then?? sigh…

  • Eliza
    May 15, 2013 at 3:32 am

    Just wanted to pop back by now that I’ve finished the book. This was to be my light book after finishing Orleans; however, it turns out not to have been all that light (though not nearly as gritty as Orleans).

    Re diversity – I’m not so sure that the worlds described are so white. Cello is a made-up world and there is nothing to indicate that that world is primarily made up of white people. Also Madeline is described as mixed-race: part Iranian, Somali, Polish, Irish and Tibetan (which makes the cover kind of white washed).

    I had a harder time warming up to Madeline than I did to Elliot and maybe it’s because for most the book Madeline herself was hiding from many truths of her past and, therefore, it was hard to get to know her.

    I did like the portrayal of the various stages of friendships – both the long term friendships between Elliot and his group and between Jack and Belle and the beginning friendships between Corrie-Lynn and Derrin and between Madeline and Jack and Belle. Since there was so much set up required there wasn’t time to delve into these relationships in any depth. I hope that Moriarty goes into these friendships more in the future books ’cause she is so great at portraying friendships.

    I really enjoyed Princess Ko and hope we get to spend more time with her in future books.

    Overall – I didn’t fall completely in love with all the characters like I did in the Ashbury/Brookfield series but those books are pretty special. However, I really enjoyed the book and am looking forward to continuing the story. I really liked the premise of the colors being alive in Cello and how they affect the residents there (especially the waves of red).

    Bechdel Test score: 3:3

  • raidergirl3
    July 10, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    This was a book made available by YA Sync this summer, 2015. I just finished it, and was enchanted, so started looking up some reviews as I felt I’ve landed on a book I hadn’t heard of before, although I have read Moriarty before.
    I agree on your review! It started very slowly, and it took a while for all the parts to start to come together, but then, wow. Did you ever read the 2nd book? I’m excited to see my library has it.

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