Star Wars VII blasts into a post-Lucas galaxy that’s far far away, but all too familiar

By sheer force of numbers, A New Hope (whoops, I mean The Force Awakens) has taken the country of multiplexes by storm. Fans are flocking to the new sequel-that’s-not-a-prequel, critics offer a few light verbal jabs before applauding the film for its freshness and lightness of spirit, and even nonbelievers in the Star Wars canon are admitting that the movie has merit for its entertainment values. Virtually everyone I know who’s seen it has liked it. So despite the fact that I had to shell out an extra 5 bucks because the only seats available were in 3D, I was prepared to like it as well—considering that, back in the day, I thought the original series—especially when Han and Leia’s verbal jabs were more entertaining than swooshing light sabers—to be jolly good fun.

But Han and Leia were a lot older for this one. And though Han could still do that world-weary twinkle in his eye, his age showed. The two newcomers who replaced them as stars—the orphan junk dealer Rey and renegade soldier Finn—come off as much more serious, despite Finn’s occasional comic lines. Rey is scrappy (she works collecting scrapped parts—get it?) and determined and somehow strong with the Force, though we’re never told how she managed to swing that. She also wears the same expression on her face, a kind of blank stare, for virtually the entire movie. Finn is more interesting, but I had a hard time buying his running away from the army when the army had programmed his entire life up until that point. Not that he’d chicken out when it came time for him to kill innocent people—that’s a visceral, instinctive reaction to war. But he’s still just a number, and he only knows people as numbers. How’s he supposed to suddenly decide that he’s got a name—and a desire for freedom–unless someone has planted those seeds in his mind? And this film never shows that side of his backstory.

When these two get together, any chance for developing a relationship with nuance gets blasted away in withering tie fighter tracers and explosions. So here I’m going to go all grumpy on y’all and say that, back in the day, dodging tie fighter tracers and explosions was exhilarating fun. This time after just a few tie fighter tracers and explosions on a much-too-close 3D screen I had had enough, thank you. Yet that was just the beginning. The Force Awakens thus settles into the comfortable and peculiarly American movie diet of loud fast blow ‘em up shoot ‘em up chase scenes that for some reason Hollywood has decided every red-blooded citizen has to enjoy.

Otherwise, like Rey herself, director J.J. Abrams played the scavenger, ripping off chunks of the original Star Wars series and jamming them into his story. Apologists for this call this a nodding tribute to the original tale, but I call it lack of imagination. Did we really need another Death Star, only bigger? More Army officers that look straight out of the Third Reich? A bad guy who looks like a bad cross between Palpatine and Voldemort? Tie fighters that haven’t changed in thirty years? Another bar scene with aliens? Same old stormtrooper suits? Another father-son confrontation on a narrow bridge over an endless chasm? And how did the First Order come into being, anyway?
There was one scene that held my interest, a scene that might have revealed much about Rey’s character had it been explored further. Wandering into the basement of Maz Kanata’s castle, she stumbles on Luke Skywalker’s light saber stored in a box like a religious artifact. After opening the box she’s overwhelmed by eerie sounds and a flashback of herself as a child when her parents are wrenched from her. Had she stumbled on a powerful manifestation of the Force? Would we be granted access to her past and gain insight into what she believes and what motivates her? Perhaps a spiritual awakening, or a great fear would be unleashed on her? And what did it have to do with Luke’s light saber? Unfortunately, the scene ended quickly and Rey seemed untroubled and unchanged by the experience.

Perhaps—but it’s never even hinted as such—this experience enabled her to use the Force, which Luke only learned after numerous lessons from the venerable Yoda (here missing, alas). Because, guess what, she uses the Force to get her stuck-in-the-snow light saber to return to her hand just in the nick of time. Just like Luke.

So maybe in VIII, Rey will turn to the franchise writers and using her best Jedi mind control voice, say “You will unshackle your own creative bonds and do something truly different this time.”


I wrote this about a month ago and some…force (ahem) kept me from posting it. Could it be Disney himself? Or the threat of legions of TFA followers casting aspersions my way? But now I’ve decided to do the right thing and post it.

I do have one last meme to explore here: Kylo Ren’s cool new light saber. It dawned on me that this young, disturbed villain carried a Christian symbol, since the two crossguards shine red like the shaft. This can’t have been coincidence, and has been noticed by others on the Internet. The red color gives the saber a certain demonic quality, contrasting with Luke’s “pure white” light saber. What does this symbolism intend?

Christians may see it as symbolizing the anti-Christ, though I wouldn’t go that far. It could be a not-so-subtle comment, in visual form, that any religion taken to extremes leads to evil–Muslim, Christian, or Judaism, take your pick. “Christian Soldiers” has all to often been taken literally, leading to behavior directly antithetical to the teachings of Christ.

No doubt you have read book reviews for adult fiction that excoriate the writing for employing trite characters, hackneyed plots, and old, hoary thematic tropes. No doubt you have read some of these books as well, and found them to be nauseatingly boring reads. What fun is a story without plot twists and characters who explode conventions and challenge one’s notion of what makes a good tale?

No doubt one has gained considerable satisfaction in pointing out what these tropes are and why they make for mediocre fiction. Editors and agents in particular attack with relish submissions that rely on vapid, timeworn themes and techniques.

Even editors and agents dealing with children’s books.

And yet…what are tropes to children? Put simply, they don’t exist, particularly for younger children who are just beginning to explore the fictionverse. They don’t care if a villain is done up in paint-by-number colors, or a plot device is predictable as apple pie. They don’t care if adult readers know just what the hero is going to do because they’ve read it so many times before.

And yet…kidult fiction must also appeal to adults, who evaluate, purchase and often read said fiction to children. A writer of such fiction must perform a balancing act for two widely differing audiences.

Which brings me to my latest Middle Grade Novel read, Jinx by Sage Blackwood (aka Karen Schwabach). This fairly long (360 pp.) fantasy tale is about a preteen boy named Jinx. Who is—surprise, surprise—an orphan.

Really. Who would have guessed that a children’s book would feature a main character who’s an orphan? Well, just about anyone would have guessed. I haven’t done an official survey, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one out of three fantasy tales for kids nowadays features at least one orphan, particularly as the main character. As an adult, I find this distressing. It’s a cheap and easy way to elicit sympathy for the protagonist, conveniently eliminates parents from the story, and gives the protagonist a convenient cause or sense of longing.

Know what? Kids don’t give squat about my feelings here. And I can’t blame writers for thrusting the mantle on orphans when the most popular kidlit hero of modern times, a Mr. Harry Potter, was an orphan par excellence.

Such orphans have to overcome a terrible temporary home life (the Dursleys) and find a substitute parental figure (Dumbledore). Jinx’s version of the Muggle family members are superstitious, mentally challenged villagers who live in a clearing in a scary, magical forest. Like Harry, Jinx’s substitute dad is a wizard. Only in this case, the wizard is only marginally better than Jinx’s abusive stepdad. But you know, the wizard knows stuff. Interesting stuff. And Jinx is so ready to find out what it is.

Jinx has no Hogwarts to provide endless snarky relationship tangles, but he does meet a couple of other magical wannabe kids. For awhile they thrash out their differences, and it’s kind of fun, but some of the conversations go on and on and on—Blackwood could have trimmed 50 pages of conversation and avoided some of the dreaded mid-novel sag. Things pick up when they meet a truly evil sorcerer, who nonetheless has his charms. I won’t say what happens—spoilers and all that—but the threesome deal with some loathsome evil here that’s also thankfully not too graphicly depicted.

Kudos to Blackwood for avoiding the trap of creating a cartoon evil character, at least. Her three kids may be in a fantasy world, but they are just like kids in our neck of the Universe. I guess that’s good enough for me to ignore the fact that she mined the Orphan Trope like a California prospector in 1849.

The urge to create: we all feel it, but how many of us push past failure to realize our creative dreams? All children act on this urge, but many shut it down as they grow older and deal with the demands of the Quoditian World. Some of us return to the urge and express creativity in many ways as an outlet from those demands. Some not only return to the urge, they defy the world to prevent them from returning to it. The price they pay may be high, and failure when it inevitably comes more painful. But the rewards can be great.

These thoughts came to me after watching PBS’s recent two-part series on the life of Walt Disney. For those growing up before the Sixties, Disney was the Oz to our young Dorothys, the man most responsible for the amazing evolution of stories presented to children—and adult—in animated film. Snow White, his first feature-length film, took the country by storm. His movies became must-see events, his Disneyland a mecha for kids. He was also perfect for the new medium of television during the 50s, so he had great timing…for a while.

The culture of the Sixties brought about a change in attitude about Disney and his empire. The term “Mickey Mouse” became a pejorative term, used to describe something seen as unimaginative, cheap, or status quo. Disney, once the daring rebel who took on the Hollywood Establishment, was now himself that Establishment. Nevertheless, the entertainment empire he built survived and flourished. People nowadays may have differing opinions about the quality of Disney’s work, but no one can deny that the man followed his urge to create in a massive way, beat the odds, and profoundly influenced not just American culture but World culture.

It’s no accident that his ubiquitous cartoon symbol, Mickey Mouse, was a feisty individual (nowadays certain quarters would label him a “maverick”) who kept his chin up in the face of adversity, never gave up, and triumphed in the end. This is how Disney saw himself. Even after achieving both fame and commercial success, he pushed projects that nearly bankrupted his company and destroyed his career. His urge to create took an ominous turn when he pushed his employees hard as well, and when they went on strike he simply couldn’t understand that now the Mickey Mouses were the inkers and in-betweeners, the production-line workers who were overworked and underpaid.

It’s a story some have compared to that of Steve Jobs, another creative genius who helped spawn a revolution. Both started as rebels, both drove themselves to become the establishment they’d formerly rejected, and both died too young to see the fruition of all their dreams.

But only Disney plied his trade in Story. The company he founded still pumps out Story, though its animated features rely more and more on a girl audience in love with the Princess Meme. Writers of children’s stories today ignore Disney at their peril, even if they dislike the man and what he stood for. What we can all take away from the man’s life is an appreciation for what it takes—hard work, thick skin, and passion—to achieve our creative dreams.

Post Script: A wonderful autobiography by illustrator Bill Peet gives a heartfelt, sometimes whimsical view of Disney. Peet worked for Disney Studios for a while, contributing to such classic animated films as Snow White and Fantasia, before he branched out into writing and illustrating children’s books. Peet also illustrated his autobiography with his distinctive cartoon style that really makes this a fun read.

That Kelly Link is a fearless writer who slaps fiction on your plate and dares you to eat it cannot be denied. In a previous review of her story collection Pretty Monsters I enthusiastically gave her YA writing a thumbs up, so I was relishing another crack at her quirky brand of prose with her latest collection for adults, Get In Trouble (Random House, 2015).

A number of themes and images run through these stories, if stories they truly be. Girls or women who are bored or bothered by boyfriends or things they don’t understand. Superheroes (too many, IMHO). Ghosts. Alcohol, always alcohol to fail as the longed-for panacea. And at the heart of everything, the stinking beast that is Florida. Link’s prose sometimes runs off like Hunter Thompson trying to figure out why he has two shadows, and so what if he’s just an ordinary housewife who doesn’t understand her husband?

Link loves to conflate the voice of the narrator with the voice of any number of characters in a story, dispensing with quote marks, throwing in cryptic catch-phrases that refer to a code that may or not reveal a meaningful connection or emotional truth. This makes the stories a bit of a struggle at times, though when the prose truly clicks, and Link reins in the overly clever cute stuff, it can be LOL funny. At their best, they leave a queasy feeling and give the reader plenty of space to figure out the meaning. At their worst, they’re repetitive and boring. Sometimes a story shows both.

None of the characters in these stories have what I would call an “aha!” moment. No startling revelations, no fateful choices, but more than likely a turning of some sort that changes the atmosphere from, say, gaiety to blurry apprehension. You have to sort through the rubbish for a payoff; readers more accustomed to having this neatly arranged by the author may lose patience. I won’t pretend that at times I grew weary of tripping through disgorged prose or pretentious characters who didn’t connect with me. But in most of the stories I would inevitably find a nugget or two—a wacky observation or cleverly turned phrase—and I’d do a mental fist pump, yes! Kelly, you still have it!

Here’s a quote from the final story in the collection, in a what-if world where pocket universes are de rigeur, at least in Florida, and the main character is a bureaucrat in charge of (I kid you not) inventorying “sleepers,” people who inexplicably fall asleep and have to be stored somewhere. Before the MC hunkers down in a climactic hurricane, she holds forth on a number of Florida’s tacky cultural icons, such as mermaids:

The mermaids were an invasive species, like the iguanas. People had brought them from one of the Disney pocket universes as pets, and now they were everywhere, small but numerous in a way that appealed to children and bird-watchers. They liked to show off and although they didn’t seem much smarter than, say, a talking dog, and maybe not as smart, since they didn’t speak, only sang and whistled and made rude gestures, they were too popular with the tourists at the Venetian Pools to be gotten rid of.”

It’s funny little observations and clever inventions like these that make Link a worthy read. I only wish there were more of them here, and fewer of the confusing, nonsensical ones.

Night of PanWith the recent popularity of the Percy Jackson middle grade fantasy series, Greek Mythology has also grown in popularity among both preteens and their teachers. Fictional treatments of such iconic figures as Jason, Helen of Troy, Odysseus, and even the god Pan have made the Greek myths familiar to young readers in a way that textbooks can’t.

There’s a reason why these myths continue to fascinate us well over 2,000 years since they were handed down to the Western World. The Greeks told stories filled with passion. Their heroes were capable of doing terrible things, and their gods acted in all-too-human—often lascivious—ways. Western drama as we know it was born in the religious dramas that gave us both comedy and tragedy. These myths greatly influenced all kinds of Greek thinkers—philosophers, mathematicians, rulers, playwrights—who in turn profoundly influenced Western thought in the Renaissance. We’d have no Shakespeare without the Greeks.

So universal do the Greeks seem to us today that it’s easy for us with Western postmodern values to forget how different from ours their cultural attitudes were. They had democracy, but also slaves, and women were treated as property as well. Warfare was glorified. Rulers often identified with a god who had the right to punish people as he saw fit. Once the ruling class ended the matriarchy of its ancestors, brutality was condoned or even praised.

Writing stories based on a culture with such a different ethical point of view from ours can be quite challenging—particularly in stories for young people, which we as teachers and parents require toe the ethical line. Stories with human sacrifice, gods who rape, incest, and other atrocities are generally kept away from pre-teens; in D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, for example, Herakles “swats” his family down instead of tearing them limb from limb. Percy Jackson only goes so far down this road as well—even when Percy slays a monster, it disappears in a cloud of gold dust rather than actually bleed to death.

Are there any novels out there for young readers that aren’t afraid to deal with the darker aspects of Greek myths? One such YA novel I read recently, Night of Pan by first-time novelist Gail Strickland (2014, Curiosity Quills Press) bursts out of the sword-and-sandal approach to Greek mythology with an exclamation point. The main character is not a storied hero, a wisecracking modern teenager, or a god. She’s Thaleia, daughter of a former oracle priestess at Delphi known as the Pythia.

Delphi played an enormous role in both Greek mythology and history. It’s a beautiful place, set on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus, and for thousands of years the priests who ran the oracle grew wealthy from the kings who came from all over to seek information—or help—from the god Apollo. The Pythia sat on a three-legged stool over a gaseous vent, went into a trance, and spoke in tongues while the priests interpreted her babblings to their clients. While the Pythia was recognized as being important to the oracle, it was the priests—all male—who held the power and riches.


Strickland’s approach is contemporary. Thaleia is a feminist; she has visions and defies the evil priest who rules Delphi and nearly pays for it with her life. She not only survives, but with her newly-found god companion Pan she gains the strength to claim the role of Pythia herself. In so doing she gives one of the most famous prophecies of all time, one which inspires the Greeks to defeat the Persian conqueror Xerxes in the naval battle at Salamis.

But wait, there’s more. The Greek historian Herodotus claimed that, prior to Salamis, Xerxes tried to attack Delphi, and was repulsed by Apollo himself when the god sent an avalanche to repulse the Persians. Strickland cleverly uses this as another way for Thaleia to flex her magical muscles as she calls on Apollo for help, and to the amazement of her community the god responds.

Thus this story straddles too genres—historical fiction and New Age-tinged feminist pagan fantasy. Just when I thought this was a realistic story, here comes Pan with his bag of tricks. Thaleia is a true child of nature, and she experiences Pan not as a scary would-be rapist but as delightful-smelling outdoor kitchen god of sorts. At one point I was convinced they were going to have sex—isn’t that what satyrs do?—but no, Pan just wants to inspire her, like a good contemporary man who wouldn’t touch jailbait.

So Pan is cool, if a bit smell-infused. The other deity Thaleia encounters is Apollo himself, a far more powerful god who ruled the oracle. (Note: at one time the oracle was not ruled by Apollo but by Gaia, the earth goddess. I doubt many contemporary Pagans would have any problem wishing Gaia’s Python had kicked Apollo’s butt instead of falling to one of his arrows). Here Strickland has a problem: does she present the god as sympathetic, despicable, or something in between? After all, his head priest is a violent misogynist. Strickland presents him as a kind of disembodied force of nature—no face, even. Of course the gods could present themselves to mortals any way they liked, but I would have liked if Apollo had appeared with some kind of human aspect to him.

I give Strickland props for creating an appealing main character in Thaleia, and putting her in an intriguing historical setting that shows obvious scholarship on Strickland’s part. At times I found myself a bit confused by events, and at times the marriage of historical and fantasy fiction strains a bit. But overall this tale’s most important function is to remind us that embracing one’s passion can lead to great success, no matter whether you’re a Pythia-in-waiting or a suburban kid about to experience all that wild stuff Pan was famous for.

So tackyOur lives are more than just our minds and bodies. They’re also our stuff. This truth hit home recently with the death of my mother, and subsequent frantic family parceling out of my parents’ possessions.

For the last two years of her life, my mother Kim suffered from dementia and required round-the-clock care. Her husband Sam was gone, and she often forgot that he’d died, or even his name. His absence was a vast presence in her condo apartment, an apartment that the two of them had filled with all kinds of things. Art hung on the wall, figurines and Buddha statuettes sat on shelves and inside cabinets, along with my dad’s tennis trophies and framed awards from various service organizations and government committees. Antique furniture (and, as we found out, imitation antique furniture) nestled in every room along walls and in corners, and they all contained multiple drawers filled to the brim with things. Both my parents had walk-in closets full of clothing as well as various other items. They also had two full storerooms in other parts of the building. In other words, their space was stuffed with stuff.

Even though her mobility was limited, Kim’s hearing remained sharp, and if she thought anyone was going through drawers or closets or bookshelves she would object loudly. This kept me and my other family members from getting a jumpstart on organizing things to toss out or give away, and during her final days we naturally focused on her, not the apartment. No matter; we thought we’d have plenty of time after her death to sort everything out.

We didn’t realize how quickly the condo would sell—at a price double what we expected, and paid fully in cash at that. Escrow closed in a week. The new owners were champing at the bit to send in remodelers, and we’d barely scratched the surface.

My sister Sarah flew in from the East Coast and managed to keep the new owners at bay while we divvied up artwork, antiques, and other goodies. Thanks to some help from an appraiser, that was the fun part.

The rest of it, though, was hard work and taxed all of us. That’s because none of us realized the extent to which my parents—and my mother in particular—purchased and collected things, sometimes obsessively. In one drawer, for example, I found NINE separate shoehorns and about two dozen partly used dental floss dispensers. Their filled bookcases were only marginally organized, with romance novels tucked in between books on Asian art and histories of the Civil War (to name just a few categories). While packing books I just happened to open one up and—voila!—pressed between the pages were four 50 dollar bills. My mom also put cash in envelopes and stuck in them in various drawers scattered their apartment; you couldn’t just throw stuff out willy-nilly or you might miss some serious cash.

My mother collected every card and letter—did she ever throw anything away?—and often tossed them into drawers along with new photos, old photos, jewelry, half-eaten cookies, pens, post-it pads, notepads, writing pads, scissors, CDs, and of course shoe horns. Sorting the wheat from the chaff took hours and hours. With a deadline to get everything done approaching, I realized we hadn’t even touched a cabinet crammed with at least a dozen huge travel photo albums. I threw them into cardboard boxes and moved on.

Our movers came in and starting wrapping furniture up like tasty morsels for giant spiders that feed on chairs and desks and chests. It was about this time that a metaphor for my parents’ condo emerged in my mind: it was like the carcass of a giant spider, and we were the spiderlings feeding off it.

After the movers took away the stuff we were keeping, my sister departed and left the next step to me and my wife Denise (who, by the way, worked like a beaver and never complained a whit). A professional estate salesman came in and cherry-picked what he thought he could sell; surprisingly he didn’t much care for the antique furniture and asked us if we had more military paraphernalia. But he hauled away a bunch of stuff, and now almost everything was out to be picked over by us.

We invited the housekeepers and other employees at the condo complex to come in and take from what remained. But because we only had one day left, they had to do this at the same time the hauler we hired came in to clear the place out. Fortunately he was a friendly and agreeable person, though he worked with such astonishing strength and speed I could barely think straight.

As a result I made one very foolish mistake. A few days earlier I’d filled a rented van with stuff—mostly boxes—to take up to our Berkeley storage unit. But one of the items was a cabinet I’d forgotten to point out to the movers, so I and a pair of strong young friends I’d hired managed to get it into the van. Except that after we’d taken out the drawers to lighten the load we’d forgotten to load them onto the van. And the hauler would be coming the next morning.

No matter, I thought. The hauler will surely see them and put them aside for me.

Except, no. He assumed the drawers were junk, and by the time I asked him about them he’d already taken them to the dump, where now they were compacted pieces of wood and tiny metal handle pieces.

I felt bad about that, but not as bad as my sister when she realized she’d lost track of an emerald ring. My advice to her was to just let it go. We’d already made off with a ton of booty (though what to DO with it all???) and it was time to return to our regularly scheduled lives. Meanwhile, boxes and boxes of stuff remain, waiting and beckoning us to go through them, flotsam and jetsam from the wreck of our parents’ lives.

I’ve always had a thing for maps. It started when I read The Hobbit and found myself enchanted by the quaint illustrations of Misty Mountains and mysterious runes and wispy-lettered place names that let Middle Earth bloom in my imagination. Later I became fascinated by early Western maps of the New World, where legendary places like Quivera and El Dorado hovered tentatively in places the mapmaker had clearly only imagined. When I was a young man in Edinburgh, I even met a real cartographer, one of the few remaining mapmakers in the world who still made maps by engraving them with special tools on copper plates. His name: David Webster. While he was no relation—or was he?—I took this for a sign: maps were destined to be part of my life, somehow.

Maps of imaginary places continued to play a role in my private inventions, and now a map itself is an actual character in one of my works-in-progress. Thus when I was browsing my local library’s collection of middle grade fiction and my eyes fell on N.E. Bode’s The Slippery Map, I quickly snapped it up. I was curious to see how another author would use a map in a middle grade fantasy, since my WIP is also a middle grade fantasy. More than 270 Bode pages later, I now have a pretty good idea.

First of all, The Slippery Map is a story, not a map. It doesn’t even have a map, despite a wildly imaginative and times confusing array of places, invented creatures, and quirky people. It’s well titled because the story itself is sort of slippery. An orphaned boy (yes, another orphan story) with the reality-challenged name Oyster R. Motel lives in a nunnery and uses a map to enter into an imaginary world that he later learns was created by his parents when they were children—and his parents are still alive in this imaginary world. Oyster must not only defeat the assorted threatening creatures (Spider Wolves, Snapping Dirt Clams, etc.) that stand in his way by employing such oddities as menthol-flavored figs, he ultimately must face down Dark Mouth, an industrial tyrant who enslaves the various Perths, Wingers, Doggers, and other whimsical denizens of this imaginary world. Dark Mouth also holds Oyster’s parents captive. Oyster finds his inner hero to rescue them, but he also needs the help of the nuns who have heretofore raised him, who come flying through the map with habits flapping in a frenzy.

I must confess there were times when I could have used both a map and a glossary to keep track of the places and characters in this story. It dragged in places, as episodic children’s stories can do at times. Two qualities proved to be its saving grace, however: a dreamish sense of tongue-in-cheek humor, and Oyster’s own soul-searching.

For me, the most touching humor comes when Oyster is temporarily seduced into giving in to the “good life” by one Vince Vance, a two-bit TV celeb hired by Dark Mouth to be his happy-happy mouth piece to keep the poor Perth citizens down. Oyster’s first impression of him:

A pair of Vicious Goggles snarled on either side of him [Oyster], and this alerted a Perth in a nearby lounge chair. The Perth was wearing swim trunks, a foil sun-reflector on his chest, and a pair of blue sunglasses. He looked freshly broiled.”

This pathetic “celeb” takes Oyster on a tour of his mansion staffed by elderly Perths, with stupendous, loud, famous-sounding music and an exceptionally fancy kitchen. Sensing that Vince Vance wants to be famous, Oyster mentions Hollywood. Intrigued, Vance tries to locate Hollywood on the Slippery Map, but instead inadvertently brings in Sister Mary Many Pockets from the Nunnery from the other side. Vance later obtains the Map and again tries to locate Hollywood—this time bringing in the entire nunnery.

The nuns have all taken a vow of silence, but Oyster manages to communicate with them through his heart. Despite his many self-doubts*, Oyster’s heart is his super power. With it he not only saves people, he reintegrates them into his life, and isn’t that something we would all like to do?

*A note here: the author Bode constantly—constantly—gives us updates on what Oyster is thinking and feeling: “It was strange to be so close to them [his parents]. He realized he was scared to see them. How would they react? He wanted so much from them—all the love he’d missed his whole life. His chest felt heavy with all of his wanting.” The Show Not Tell Police must have had a cow when they read this book, but hey—it’s middle grade.


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