Names are SO Important. Seriously. Cannot stress it enough.

Before I delve boldly into my review of Gothic!, a lovely little package of creepies and tinglies edited by Deborah Noyes, and featuring such luminaries as Neil Gaimen and Joan Aiken, I would be most obliged if you would indulge me in a small rant. ahem. The category of “Young Adult” is a needless barrier between readers and books. So many wonderful books are published and, often due to the simple fact that they contain a young protagonist, are slapped with the “YA” label and therefore cut off from legions of adult readers (at least those who maintain a sense of shame: I proudly lug whole stacks of library books back to the Ossuary with bright yellow “YA” stamps on their spines). I wonder if it has a similar effect on teen-agers, making them think that what they enjoy is somehow “lesser” than an “adult” book… It’s a complex issue, deserving of its own Tomb Gnome Rant (patent pending), and so I will leave it at the above. Gothic! mentions in its introduction that it is geared specifically for teens, which, however it may affect teen readers, set my teeth on edge and did not put me in a receptive mood.

However, the book itself was a wonderful thing. Following a bit of an old chesnut for short-story reviews, I will give a brief one-line summary of my feelings on each story, instead of trying to review the disparate parts as a whole. And so the reviewing continues:

 “The Lungewater” by Joan Aiken: a nice little gothic tale, with an ending that I found both tragic and utterly reasonable, marred by only one flaw which I shall deal with independantly at the conclusion of this review.

“Morgan Roehmar’s Boys” by Vivian Vande Velde was more of a traditional “horror” story than any of the others, but was also the only story to actually creep me out quite a bit, which is saying something.

“Watch and Wake” by M.T. Anderson uses subtle hints at first, and then more prominent ones, to let us know that his story’s real world and ours are only tangentially related, a technique I admire. This one had a “bang” ending, as did its predecessor, and probably comes in second on the scale of sheer spookiness (though its closing image is going to stick with you for a long time…)

“Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Nameless House of the Night of Dread Desire” by Neil Gaimen: oh, what can one say in the face of Neil Gaimen other than “please, please, please keep writing books, or we may have to use the pokers again.” This spoof, essentially a screwball parody of Gothic literature, is the jewel of the book, proving once again that dying is easy, and comedey is hard.

“The Dead and The Moonstruck” by Caitlin R. Kiernan left me as flat as an unattended egg cream. It was readable, and not terrible, but had nothing in particular to recommend it. A coming-of-age tale with a gothic twist.

“Have No Fear, Crumpot is Here!” by Barry Yourgrau was an amusing foray into horror/parody, but suffers from the fact that it is in the same book as Gaimen’s parody. That isn’t a fair way to judge a short story, but in terms of the book, it was definitely a weak entry.

“Stone Tower” by Janni Lee Simner skillfully combined certain elements of faery stories and Lovecraft to create an extremely tense and disturbing little story, with fascinating (and equally disturbing) psycho-sexual overtones. A lovely thing.

“The Prank” by Gregory Maguire: Though the first-person narrator’s “teen” voice was occassionally a bit forced, it was an interesting story in general, with only two real characters,  both of whom are sufferring from deep guilt: one for a recent act, one for a much older one. How they deal with their problems is more realistic than satisfying, but that only serves to make the story as a whole more resonant.

“Writing on the Wall” by Celia Rees. A haunted house story. Uses one nice effect, alluded to in the title. Other than that, fairly run-of-the-mill.

“Endings” by Garth Nix. Short, poetic, and pleasant, and a suitable closer, if a bit heavy-handed.

In all, this was a wonderful book, a nice collection to foist on any person you know who could use a few moments of creepy dread, accompanied by intermittent chuckling.

On The Imporatnce Of Names: a bonus mini-review. In “The Lungewater,” Joan Aiken (she of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase) has a villain. He is a count from an Eastern European country. Most probably Russia. His name is most likely taken from a mid-twentieth century author of books on Russian pronunciation and grammar; it is not a “created” name. However, in a book, particularly one geared towards teens, it might have been wise not to name a character Boyanus. Say it out loud. Let it roll around in your mind. Boyanus. There are two words there. They shouldn’t be there, but they are, and it detracted a bit from the story. What would have been wrong with Borzakov?

Published in: on September 8, 2007 at 8:37 am  Comments (9)  

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m in total agreement with the YA that is put on many books. From what I understand YA is simply to mean “no intricate sex scenes or foul language”.. I did not know this until lately.. but I jumped that barrier and now enjoy MANY “YA” books!

  2. I, too, enjoy many YA labeled books. Then again, I enjoy many children’s books. A good book is a good book. Like Deslily, I’m certainly not put off by the label–would miss too many good reads!

  3. I understand what you’re saying about YA, but I also think it can be a useful label for teachers and librarians. Adults shouldn’t be ashamed to read them, though! But yeah, I can see how it can create some awkwardness even in teenagers themselves.

    This sounds like a wonderful anthology. I’ve had it on my wishlist for a while. After reading this review I want to read it even more.

  4. I can understand the idea that YA means no explicit this or that (though it certainly does not mean no explicit violence and why that is more palatable than sex…well, that’s another topic), but I think it’s kind of more (or less) than that. There are tons of ‘adult’ books that do not involve curse words, sex, or even violence, but they’re not marketed to teens. It seems like largely a marketing strategy used…for whatever reason. I can see how it can be useful to some, but it’s a very weird distinction to draw.

    I think I would call it a clumsy category.


    “left me as flat as an unattended egg cream”
    hahaha =D

    If nothing else, I want to read the Neil Gaiman part of this book.

  5. I think I will need to pick this book up; it sounds fabulous.

    Though, I have to agree with you that a different name should have been chosen for that Russian guy. 🙂

  6. Sounds like a good collection! In our library, a substantial portion of the YA books are shelved with the regular fiction, but still have the sticker. Very weird. I’m shameless about checking them out as well!

  7. This sounds like a great book! Thanks for the review.

  8. Oh, this does sound like a winner!

    That was a good point you made. YA is my favorite section of the library (despite the fact that I’m firmly ensconced in middle-age), and I’ve never been even slightly embarrassed about it. But I’d never thought how that might make teens feel like they’re reading something less than adult. That would truly be a shame!

  9. I could not agree with you more. I adore YA books, but I don’t necessarily think they deserve to be ostracized from the general fiction sections of bookstores and/or libraries. And, I think the opposite is also true – sometimes adult stories end up classified as children’s. I’ve just read the first two stories in Neil Gaiman’s “M is for Magic” and I was kind of stunned. They’re so adult. I just can’t imagine a youngster enjoying either of them and I have this sneaking suspicion that some school somewhere is going to end up with noisy parents insisting on a ban.

    Also, I enjoyed your reviews. I’m done ranting back at you, now. You may go back to your reading. 🙂

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