Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

ImageThere’s a shipwreck, a murder, some treason and rebellion, and yes of course, a kidnapping. All in less than 250 pages.

I had no idea when I picked this up that it was actually written for children/young adults (I bought the Kobo version, not one of the classic paperbacks that look like kids books). As I read a lot of YA anyway it mattered little. What I wanted was a good story set in Jacobite Scotland, and that’s what I got.

After the death of his father, young David Balfour learns of an uncle he never knew and a family fortune that is rightfully is. He sets of on a solo trek through the highlands of Scotland to find an uncle who is far from welcoming, and instead arranges to have him kidnapped into servitude on a ship. He escapes this terrible fate only through more bad luck – a shipwreck. Finally, David finds himself teamed up with a Jacobite adventurer, Alan Breck Stewart, who is wanted for the murder of a prominent Scot.

The two forge an unlikely friendship as they trek the Scottish countryside, and through their adventures, David transforms from a scared and uncertain young orphaned boy into a confident and experienced young man.

Overall, a charming book in the classic Romantic style (classic adventure-Romance, not love story romance). Note: You will want to be confident in your Scottish history – or keep Wikipedia handy – to follow the politics of the time.

Publisher: Cassell and Company Ltd

Publication date: 1886

Pages: 136

ISBN: 0-486-41026-9

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Way to Go by Tom Ryan

It’s the summer of 1994, and Danny’s friends have a mission: he is going to get laid before he starts grade twelve in the fall. Danny however, is just not-that-into girls. Determined to prove once and for all that he is not gay, Danny decides to find a girl to set him straight, and when he suddenly finds himself working at the town’s new restaurant with Lisa, who is visiting from New York City for the summer, Danny thinks his problems might be over.

Maybe Lisa had appeared out of nowhere for a reason. I was kind of like a frog in a fairy tale who needed a kiss from a princess so he could turn into a prince. Only, instead of a frog, I was a might-be-gay kid who needed straightening out, and instead of a princess, she was a cigarette-smoking tattooed city girl with a bag full of mix tapes. I figured that was close enough.

But of course it is not that simple. Lisa is awesome and they have a great time together, but Danny just doesn’t see her that way. And his friends, especially Kierce, with all his rules about life and partying and girls, do not let up. Life-long friendships are strained, some will not fully recover.

Set in small town Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Way to Go is a serious look at the loneliness and isolation encountered growing up gay, but manages to stay light-hearted, with characters who make mistakes yet refuse to wallow in their troubles.

I found myself wanting to know more about Danny and Lisa when the book ended. Does Danny go to cooking school, or is it perhaps a passing inspiration, but not the end goal? Does he see Lisa again, perhaps years down the road? How does his friendship with Jay change after he admits he’s gay (or does it)? How will he tell his father, and will his father ever accept it? I am not saying these are things that Ryan ought to have addressed, but rather I think a good book should leave you wondering and wanting more. This one did. I look forward to more from Tom Ryan – and hear he has a new one coming in Spring of 2013!

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers (April 1 2012)
ISBN-10: 145980077X
ISBN-13: 978-1459800779


Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Twin brothers Marion and Shiva Stone are born at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to a British surgeon and an Indian nun who does not survive their birth. When their father flees the country in shame shortly after their birth they are raised by two of Missing’s other doctors – and adored by all staff.

The two come of age against the backdrop the Ethiopian revolution, and its effects change their lives forever. While inseparable as children, Marion and Shiva have a falling out as teenagers (naturally, over a girl) and become estranged for most of their adult lives.

Written by a surgeon who lived for many years in Ethiopia, the novel is filled with breathtaking images of the country and heart-stopping, detailed descriptions of the medicine as practised there and the diseases encountered. While far from ‘light reading’ it is still very readable, bringing life to the surgical practices and the doctors involved.

Cutting for Stone is a book that is rich in detail, and in back story. To fully appreciate it you must devote some time to it. I did not do this for the first half of the novel. I was busy with work and other commitments, and read haphazardly, a chapter one night, two the next. The book deserves better. When I was finally able to devote some good reading time to it, I read 2.5 hours straight, only moving to refill my tea-cup, and finished the final third of the book in one sitting, as breathlessly as if I’d just run a race.

Marion’s exile from his own country, his journey to the United States and eventually back again to Ethiopia allow him to unravel the mystery of his parents’ love, his mother’s death and his father’s regrets. It seems wrong to describe a tale of such heartbreak, shame and separation as beautiful, yet that is what it is.

My only criticism would be that the female characters – with the exception of Hema, the twins’ adoptive mother – are seriously underdeveloped.  Given the crucial role the women play in the overall plot, this was often frustrating. I often felt they were used as filler characters more than real people. Genet was especially lacking, as there was no set up at all for her ongoing changes in loyalty and personality, and her final few scenes with Marion were seriously disturbing.

That said, having read a series of disappointing books in the past month, Cutting for Stone had the depth of plot and (mostly) of character that I needed. A fantastic novel, I will surely be looking for more from Abraham Verghese.

Hardcover: 560 pages
Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (February 3, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0375414495
ISBN-13: 978-0375414497