Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Resurrection of Magic Book 1: Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey

One of my absolute favorite books of 2007. It was a finalist for the National Book Award but got beat by Sherman Alexie's equally-fantastic-in- another-way book. After I read it, I looked up Duey's other titles. She's known for the early chapter book series, The Unicorn's Secret (which I immediately went out and bought for some of my struggling 4th grade readers). I'm thinking this is a big step in another direction.
The story moves between two main characters, Sadima and Hahp, separated by generations but connected by their involvement with two wizards and the academy they create. This is no Harry Potter wanna be - trust me. Duey created a world in which apprentices master magic or die. Frightened and forgotten boys starve to death slowly in an underground maze, unable to conjur the food they need. Hahp has talent and manages to survive, but he must watch others consistently fail and grow thinner until they finally no longer appear for class. Sadima, generations earlier, becomes housekeeper to two young men who are attempting to bring back magic that was long ago outlawed and whose language exists only in the oral stories and songs of a few people. These two men, Somiss and Franklin, are the wizards who create the hellish academy where Hahp is trapped. The first is a sadistic fanatic who will stop at nothing to resurrect magic, the second is an idealist who thinks he can be the reason to his friend's extremism (think George Bush and Tony Blair). As the book progresses, and we realize that the apprentices really will be allowed to starve to death, it becomes clear that Franklin has failed in his mission to temper the cruelty of Somiss. In the earlier narrative, Sadima stays with the increasingly terrifying Somiss because of her growing love for Franklin. Both men are instructors at the academy Hahp attends but gentle Sadima is nowhere to be seen. The affection between Franklin and Sadima is the only warmth in a dark and disturbing narrative written with fierce restraint. In Sadima's final chapter she makes a chilling discovery that must surely destroy her faith in Franklin. Duey almost destroyed my sanity as I realized I would have to wait until she wrote the next book to see if I am right. I immediately insisted that some of my sixth graders read it so we could suffer together. We're still waiting.

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