Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review: Kepler's Dream

I suppose that it isn't too often that I find myself picking up a relatively ordinary YA novel these days, really- do you know how many dystopias mine eyes hath borne witness to? Too many. Far too many, which is why picking up Kepler's Dream, by Juliet Bell, was something of a relief.
Kepler's Dream is about a girl named Ella. Her parents are divorced, and Ella often finds herself supporting her mother. You see, Ella's mother suffers from cancer, and she's about to undergo an especially intense (and potentially deadly) treatment that leaves her incapable of watching Ella during the summer. Ella gets sent away to her paternal grandmother, who to Ella is a complete and utter stranger. Not only is she a stranger, she's very strange because- wait, that's incorrect- she's eccentric, mostly because she has an endearing way of being unusual. One way it manifests itself is through her strict adherence to perfect grammar, her slightly less than subtle contempt for anybody who fails to behave according to her preferences, and of course her massive collection of rare books. The book is centered around the theft of Somnium, which the book refers to as Kepler's Dream, which is essentially what one man believed life on the moon would look like prior to stronger telescopes. Through the book, Ella discovers friends, tries to solve the mystery of the missing book and learns the joys of collecting antiquarian literature.

From the outset, this book displays plenty of character. It would appear that Bell is carrying on in the tradition of Judy Blume- her protagonist, Ella, is certainly one I felt I could relate to in spite of never really being in her situation any time within my conscious memory. In fact, the book's humor and writing style are also very "Blume-esque", and while the book aims for a fifth-grade audience, I (a somewhat older person) found the book pretty hard to put down. Bell's an excellent writer, and she has a certain realness about her characters- sure, where haven't we heard this before? A girl gets sent off to camp (in Ella's case, it's what she referred to as "Broken Family Camp"), and it's there that she discovers friends in spite of awkward circumstances that she eventually grows used to and she comes to realize that she's been having a great summer and goes home fully of joy. It's a definitely a familiar premise, but I have to say that Bell's execution of it is absolutely impeccable.

My only gripe (a minor one, really) is that the book's endearing quality, its "Blume-esque" humor that assigns special names to most things, sometimes seems to go a little too far- it can be slightly annoying sometimes, but it's worth enduring- I just thought that the book could've done with a little less of it.

Overall, I'd definitely recommend this book. It's very engaging, full of character and absolutely worth a read. I know it's something of a summer novel (I suppose publishing my review on the last day of August was awkward timing?), but maybe it can drag a little sunshine into your autumn.
While we're on the subject of cancer, I'd like to take a moment to talk about my aunt Jacqueline. She's a cancer survivor (yay!) but at current, she's paralyzed on account of the tumor that was lodged in her spine. Right now, we're looking into getting a few things for her that will improve her life. One of them is physical therapy, which can help her to regain some use of her body. The other is a specially equipped van that will allow her to go out more- she spends much of her time in bed- getting her the van built to accommodate a wheelchair would make it much easier to move her.

This brings me to my little sister- she's started an art blog and will accept commissions. Want a cartoonized version of yourself? She can do it, and the money will go straight to helping somebody in need- check out the blog right here.