Consider in its turn the common swift.
There is new evidence that over the dark dunes
of the Sahara, a swift will stay aloft
two hundred days.
Scientists are puzzled, not over how, but why.
Consider the work, they note, of sleeping in flight:
the alertness demanded,
the tacks and turns it takes
to ride the wind. Even a gliding bird would expend
a small but constant effort.
For such a cost, there must be benefit.
That is the equation of science, which is only
half a twist from love. Consider in its turn
a marriage, surely no less common
than swifts. Surely no less a nest
built in the air.
Consider in its turn the common swift.
Over at the Guardian, novelist and professor of literature Jonathan Myerson has joined the long list of well-intentioned editorial writers holding forth on children’s literature without (apparently) reading much of it. (He mentions merely Twilight and Harry Potter.)
You’ll be glad to know, fellow children’s writers, that this time we get to dispense with our work to “confront the full range of genuine human experience, a world where individuals do not wear the same black or white hat every day.” We get to ignore the fact that “Life is messy, life is surprising and, most of all, life is full of compromises.”
But it’s okay, because it’s “quite right that [children] wanted to read about worlds where evil was uniformly evil and good people were constantly good.” He wouldn’t want them to, say, “cope with the unwinnable dilemmas of JM Coetzee’s Disgrace.”
Telling choice. Disgrace is about a middle-aged white guy having an affair. (footnote) It is indeed true that when you read YA you rarely have to read about middle-aged white guys having affairs, which I personally think of as a plus. But anyone who thinks unwinnable dilemmas have no place in children’s literature both doesn’t remember what it’s like to be a child, and somehow missed a little book called The Hunger Games.
Still, I will give Professor Myerson this: he does not make the usual mistake of assuming that genre markers are indications of quality. He allows that children’s literature is deeply valuable and probably hard to write. “It isn’t about the quality of the prose: the best children’s books are better structured and written than many adult works.”
Yeah, thanks for that. Please stop patting me on the head. My hair is getting ruffled, and I urgently need to get back to my desk. I need to renounce Plain Kate, which features a weirdly sympathetic and compelling villain, and throw out Sorrow’s Knot, which centres around the world’s least winnable dilemma: grief.
Come to think of it, the work in progress is going to have to go too. Frankly I’m done for. I really don’t know what I’m going to write. This “children’s literature” of Professor Myerson’s doesn’t sound very interesting.
(footnote:) Though, should you want to read about white guys having affairs, Disgrace is a good choice. Set in post-apartheid South Africa, it is about grace, and disgrace, about what is earned and what can only be given, about what one deserves and what one gets. It is lovely.
Exciting news: Sorrow’s Knot has made the Best Books of 2013 from the venerable Kirkus Reviews. Kirkus has a reputation for being the East German Judge among the big book review journals in the United States, but they loved Sorrow’s Knot, giving it a star and a review that made both my editor and my mother promise that they didn’t write it. Still, it was a lovely surprise to see Sorrow’s Knot called out here, and put in such good company.
It made the Best Books for Teens overall list, and two of the sublists, for best fantasy and for best coming-of-age novel.
Thank you, Kirkus!
Guys. Quill & Quire and me, we’re in LUV. We’re gonna get matching tattoos. They will look like this:
But seriously — the December issue came to my house the other day. It had “Best Books of 2013: the 15 Titles that Mattered” emblazoned on the front as if they’d hired a time-travelling sign painter. (Time-travelling sign painters are very much of the moment.) “Are you in that one?” asked James.
“I wouldn’t think so. I’ve been in three already this year….” (If you’re keeping track, that covers the “most anticipated books of fall” piece, the actual review, and the time in October when the put me on the COVER. Yowsa.)
But we flipped through it anyway, of course, and there — THERE — were the top five titles for young readers. Just two YAs. One of them was Sorrow’s Knot. There was jumping up and down at my house! The eight year old faked a bit of blasée, but the rest of us were knocked over.
Here’s what they have to say:
You’d be forgiven for thinking we have a crush on Erin Bow (the author herself made a comment to this effect after she was featured on Q&Q’s October cover). But if we do, we’re not alone. The Kitchener, Ontario, author inspires in readers the kind of cultish devotion that seems particular to fantasy, science-fiction, and other genres. After the success of her debut, 2010’s Plain Kate, expectations were running high for her follow-up. Happily, Sorrow’s Knot delivers.
Written with the same overtone of mystical intensity, Bow’s sophomore effort is a coming-of-age story steeped in magic. Her characters - protagonist Otter, in particular - are so fully fleshed out that their voices leap from the page, their joy and despair felt on a visceral level. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Sorrow’s Knot is that, although darkness an death cast shadows on every page, there is lightness and hope in the mix as well.
Plain Kate may have heralded Bow’s arrival on the YA scene, but Sorrow’s Knot leaves no doubt that the author is here to stay.
I’m telling you guys. Matching. Tattoos.
I do love me my book bloggers. They — together with a handful of friends — are responsible for 80 or 90 percent of the books I read. Of course, it’s always great when book blogger love you back! Some links.
Sorrow’s Knot is a stunning, vivid, gorgeous read. One that will stay with you even after the book is closed. Amitha Knight
Sorrow’s Knot is hands down one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time. Best Books Ever
Sorrow’s Knot is an unapologetically terrifying gem of a tale. In fact, it rather resists classification. It’s fantasy, but oh, it’s horror. It’s young adult, but it’s really very middle grade, too. It’s sad. But its moments of happiness are blinding. Which is why you really must read it so you can find out what it is for you. Angieville
Sorrow’s Knot, by Erin Bow (Scholastic 2013), is one of the best books I’ve read this year. While I was reading it I was lost to the world in that best of bookish ways, and indeed during the last half of the book there was really no other world than that of the story, and I was no longer reading, but simply being there, and how can one say better than that? Charlotte’s Library
dark, lush, emotional and captivating On the Nightstand
This is exactly the kind of book I want when I say I’m looking more multicultural fantasy. Dear Author
Sorrow’s Knot has a definite place in my top 10 list for the year. It is actually one of the top three books I’ve read this year. I can not recommend it highly enough. Random Musings of a Bibliophile
Sorrow’s Knot is a beautifully crafted tale, haunting and eerie, filled with suspense, curiosity, and old magic. - Me on Books
SORROW’S KNOT is one of my top reads for 2013. I hadn’t gone 3 pages before I was drawn in and held spellbound by Erin’s dark tale of love, friendship and madness. Books for Kids
Occasionally, in the middle of all of the books that you like, or mostly like, or really don’t like but wish you did, or love but only with half your heart, there’s a book that changes you a little bit as you read it. It holds you close and when you’ve closed the covers it stays with you. For me, this is one of those rare, wonderful books. By Singing Light
There is for each piece of the world a thing
that is perfect in it. November was empty
until the chrysanthemums bloomed.
Across them, this morning,
a maple casts a shadow-trunk of frost.
Branches more beautiful than branches
shift across the cup-curled rime
of fallen leaves.
(Part of a series of poems called "definitions")
Here at the House of Bow, it's a day of celebration, and not just because my girls are at the Halloween-is-a-High-Holy-Day phase of their lives. No, indeed -- we're celebrating because, after years of waiting, my book Sorrow's Knot is finally, finally out!
Here, read this.
Don't want to quit? Order the rest with these handy links.
It should be on local shelves too. Go forth and read!
GUYS, I am flying. The (American) launch of Sorrow’s Knot is in just two days. First, the really big news: Sorrow’s Knot was just named a Publisher’s Weekly Book of the Week.
But that’s not all. It kicked off Kirkus’s week of monsters as a Friday-is-for-ghouls read. “Bow’s new novel, about the Ones with the White Hands and the terror that lurks in the dark woods at the edge of the world is plenty terrifying.”
We had a great Canadian launch — thanks, Words Worth Books! — and a string of local media: the CBC, Daytime (a local TV talk show), The Record (the major daily newspaper), the Kitchener Post and Waterloo Chronicle (the local weekly newspapers), Velvet Rope (the local arts paper). There are more of those coming up. I love my town!
Meanwhile, readers reviews are starting to trickle in.
Geek Girl Reviews: I praised Plain Kate when I reviewed it, and it is a good book; I’m counting on it standing up to any number of rereadings. I have to say, though, that Sorrow’s Knot is better, deeper and stronger and wilder […] I want to read Sorrow’s Knot again, and I want to read Erin Bow’s next book, and the one after that. I may run out of ways to commend her, though, if she keeps on improving.
Ivy Book Bindings: This book blew my mind. I just didn’t see it coming. Sorrow’s Knot is fantasy at its best: creepy and alluring; is contemporary at its finest: realistic and honest emotions; and horror at its creepiest: shivering but sure.
Bookwurm: The tension in the novel is exquisitely managed […] The tension continues to rise until you are almost despairing and then eases only to rise again. In other words, Erin Bow plays with your emotions. A lot. And you willingly read on, almost breathless with the anticipation, because you have to see Otter’s story to the end.
The Book Smugglers Sorrow’s Knot lives up to its haunting title and early praise. This is a beautiful, sorrowful book; it is an elegiac fable about death and tradition in the darkest of times. I fell in love with Bow’s writing in Plain Kate, and I’m happy to say that the same, lush and evocative prose is present in Sorrow’s Knot - all the more poignant, I think, in this second book because of its focus on stories and storytelling, of memory and loss.
There are more. Tomorrow I’ll try to round up some guest posts, of which I’m doing a bunch.
Local friends! (And enemies, if any … ) Look! Words Worth Books is throwing a launch party for me and my friend R.J. Anderson.
I’m launching Sorrow’s Knot, and R.J is celebrating the North American release of the paperbacks of her book Knife, which was a best seller in the UK. (Finally! These books are so so good, y’all! Perfect for the middle grade lover on your list who likes fairies, but doesn’t them pink and sparkly. I often recommend them to people who can’t find them, so — FINALLY!)
In-store at Words Worth in Waterloo, Ontario. October 19th, at 3:00.
I just bought hand-shaped cookie cutters. There may be ill-omened baked goods.