Monday, February 13, 2012

Kit's Wilderness, Printz Award, 2001

I expected a lot after reading the back of this book – I expected an intense plot, detailed stories about the past, and a search for ghosts. I didn’t get any of those things. Kit’s Wilderness has a rambling plot, which, even as magical realism, seems unrealistic. My opinion may stem from the drastic difference between the English culture portrayed in this book an my own – the repeated use of “eh? eh!,” the lax authority of all adults in the text, the classroom focus on the arts, the use of such a terrifying story as a school play, and Kit’s family’s responses to his grandfathers illness all seemed illogical to me.

Almond effectively uses a storyteller character’s voice as the narrator. The style of switching between story narration and Kit’s writing propelled the story through a slow part of the plot. The short story about Lak and his baby sister fascinated me, but the writing seemed far more mature Kit would be capable of. I would be very surprised to read a passage like this written by a 13-year-old – “He moved quickly with hope in his heart. The baby slept, contented. Behind him, the great dark birds spiraled from the sky, flapped heavily down into the hollow.”

Kit’s wilderness is full of unrealistic and undeveloped characters. I don’t know enough about any of them to care about their life or understand their decisions. Kit’s grandfather and Allie were the most interesting characters to me, but neither were active in the resolution of the story. The ghost children, as characters, served no purpose in the plot. They created a sense of magic and horror, adding to the tone of the story, but did not actively help or hinder Kit and Askew.

The theme of the books seems to be something grand about the struggle between life and death and the uncertainty of death. I think the story tries too hard to be heavy and important. The symbolism is hard-hitting and unmistakable. Askew is darkness and death but he’s capable of light and life. Allie is light and life but she’s capable of darkness and death. Kit is caught in between, trying to decide which he’d rather be with.

As a side note, the interactions between Kit and Askew really rub me the wrong way. Their passive-aggressive friendship mirrors many negative romantic relationships in more recent YA lit. John is a bully and focuses much of his anger on Kit, but Kit still befriends him and follows him into a frightening situation merely because Kit feels responsible to save him. The last scene in the mines makes this point for me. Askew lights a fire in the mine, and Kit cautions, “This is lethal. If there’s gas around . . .” Askew clearly cares for no one’s safety, responding “Kaboom! Great flash of fire and we’re all gone.” Kit stays in this dangerous situation only to repeatedly remind Askew that his “mother is searching for [him].”

The strongest aspects of Kit’s Wilderness are tone, history, and setting. The tone is beautifully bleak, like The Graveyard Book. The history of the small town is beautiful, and I wanted to know more about it. The sub-theme of the magical effects of history on current reality creates a far more fascinating concept than Kit’s struggle between life and death. The setting, with landscape descriptions, weather, and small town charm, really comes alive.

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