Friday, December 4, 2009

Read This Now: Lips Touch: Three Times

I was going to write this whole post about "When is a book too old for the Newbery?". I still might, because I think that's an interesting and often misunderstood question. But this book has been living in me so thoroughly over the last few days that it's asking for a post of its own. You know how occasionally you can love a book so much that you feel lonely for it after you're done reading? It's almost like being homesick.

There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave. You could walk across a high school campus and point them out: not her, not her, her. The pert, lovely ones with butterfly tattoos in secret places, sitting on their boyfriends' laps? No, not them. The girls watching the lovely ones sitting on their boyfriends' laps? Yes.


The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their yearning leaves a palpable trail, a scent goblins can follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood. The girls with hungry eyes who pray each night to wake up as someone else. Urgent, unkissed, wishful girls.

Are you aching with the wonderfulness of that? Shivers went down my spine the first time I read it. Shivers went down my spine just now, retyping it.

Lips Touch: Three Times is a made up of three novellas, all of which involve a fateful kiss of some kind. I think it's being classified as fantasy, and I was about to say "it's so not", but then I thought over the characters in the stories: goblins. Demons. Immortal shapeshifters. Okay, I accept that this is fantasy, but to me it didn't feel like such; the characters (the main characters are basically mortal) are so very real, and while there are some fantasy elements to the settings, they're pretty much in the real world, too. While I was reading the book everything seemed perfectly plausible, even natural.

"Goblin Market" is the story quoted above, and it's about a modern teenager. It's one of those "if Twilight was actually good" kinds of stories. "Spicy Little Curses Such as These" is set in colonial India, like if Frances Hodgson Burnett had written fantasy, or if LM Montgomery had written fantasy AND stories set in colonial India. "Hatchling" is set in modern London and medieval eastern Europe (and I haven't yet found the right "it's like" for it).

These are gorgeous stories, pulse-beatingly romantic at times, just a little terrifying at other times. Sleeping Beauty curses, children's lives bargained for in hell, ghosts walking clockwise around people for protection, one-eyed birds spying for the immortal queen--I think all the mythology in this book has its basis in real mythology and religion, which is probably what gives one the shock of recognition while reading it; but it's used in new, creative, delicious ways.

Each story has several pages of illustration at the beginning, done by the author's husband. They illustrate events that happen before the story starts; events sketched out within the story. The art is, I would say, sort of a Pre-Raphaelite-meets-manga style, but I don't really know what I'm talking about there. I think the illustrations are going to be very, very appealing to most teenagers, but I think they will make many adults think this isn't the book for them. I'm going to assure you now that it IS.

My interest in this book was piqued by discussion on the Heavy Medal blog--I hadn't considered reading it before, because I thought it would be too high-fantasy for me. It was discussed there in the context of whether it was suitable for the Newbery or too mature. Packaged differently, this would totally be a Newbery contender, and we aren't supposed to look at packaging. But. More on that to come later, probably.

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