Saturday, March 30, 2013

#4 & #5: Skellig and My Name Is Mina by David Almond

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to read 25 books this year, and then said I'd post on mine, and you had to tell me yours. I've fallen woefully behind in actually posting, although I'm happy to say I'm up to 11 in the actual reading. I'm going to cheat a bit with this post and pull these two books together, even though I read My Name Is Mina first (it was #4) and Skellig was actually #10. However, in order to recommend them to you properly, I want to recommend them in the right order. I read both of these aloud to my 8-year-old daughter, and we read Mina first because it had actually been a Christmas present to her from my brother. Then, standing in the library one day, we found Skellig and read it. The books were meant to be read the other way round, so that's how I'll suggest them to you.

Skellig is written by British author David Almond, about a boy named Michael who moves to a new home immediately after his mother has given birth to a premature baby girl, and there are complications. As he tries to adjust to a new community, being further away from his school chums, and two parents who are so on edge and stressed-out over the life-threateningly precarious position their daughter is in, he begins to spend more and more time alone, eventually wandering into the broken-down garage in the back lane way... only to find a man in there, hunched over, eating bugs and telling him to go away. Michael runs out, but can't believe what he saw: was it real?

In the meantime he meets Mina, a strange girl across the street who is home-schooled by her mother, finds beauty in everything in the world, sits in trees to write journal entries, and who pulls Michael in to her way of seeing things. He is fascinated by her (despite his school chums teasing him for befriending the weird girl), and finally takes her to the garage to see if she can also see this hobo, to determine if he's real. And what they discover changes the course of the novel, and their lives.

This book has been extraordinarily successful, and was made into a movie with Tim Roth in 2009 (if you see pictures of Roth in the movie, it immediately gives away the big surprise of who the man in the garage really is). We read the 10th anniversary edition of the book, and in an afterword, Almond talks about how his favourite character in the book is, in fact, Mina, and that he's begun writing down possible journal entries of her, and trying to get into her head more. He muses that maybe he'll turn it into something.

And that something was eventually My Name Is Mina. This book is actually a prequel to Skellig (so, technically, you could read it in the same order as we did), where Mina talks about the death of her father, what happened in her school that pushed her into being home-schooled, how owls hoot, how to find bones inside bird pellets, you name it. Written in a unique epistolary fashion, Mina moves in and out of first and third person (third when she wants to tell you something about herself that's difficult, so to create distance she switches voices) and through it, you truly fall in love with this incredible little girl. She watches a new boy and his pregnant mother and father scouting out the house across the street, and one day near the end hears him being called Michael. And then suddenly the mom isn't pregnant anymore, and there seems to be trauma. She doesn't know why.

If you had read Skellig first, these scenes would have been very exciting, because Almond is bringing his faithful fans of Skellig up to the beginning of that novel. Having read it the other way around, we were just curious about who the family is and wondering why she kept talking about them all the time, assuming she'd just become friends with the boy.

The main reason why I would recommend you read them in their publication order is because Mina is meant to be a mystery to Michael and to the reader in Skellig. But by the time we'd read My Name Is Mina we knew absolutely everything about her, and there was no mystery at all. That said, My Name Is Mina was our favourite of the two, and Skellig is a WONDERFUL book that I would highly recommend to anyone.

OK, your turn. What were your fourth and fifth books you read this year? (Or, if you're to that yet, what recommendations could you give to others of books similar to these?)


Colleen/redeem147 said...

Had to check on Goodreads - I've finished fifteen so far this year. Currently I'm reading a few, but mainly Gods of Gotham about the foundation of the New York City police force, and it's fascinating. I previously read Lindsay Faye's book on Jack the Ripper, and she combines a thriller-novel style with meticulous historical research.

Shimon said...

only up to seven but in the middle of a few so maybe i can still catch up...

4 & 5 were YA fantasy - Mistwood and Nightspell by Leah Cypess.

The Original Scroll said...

Symmetrically my #4 and #5 were by the same author as well: Invisible cities and Mr. Palomar by Italo Calvino - nice little treats of a book, not my absolute favourites, but still special. While reading, I liked Mr. Palomar more, but now when couple of months have passed, I find it's Invisible cities that has stayed in my mind more.