Publisher: Henry Holt and CO.
Available: August 27, 2013
Received from Publisher for Review
Hardcover 240 pages
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From Goodreads-Seventeen-year-old Penelope (Pen) has lost everything—her home, her parents, and her ten-year-old brother. Like a female Odysseus in search of home, she navigates a dark world full of strange creatures, gathers companions and loses them, finds love and loses it, and faces her mortal enemy.
In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.
Wow, this is the first apocalyptic fairy tale like book I've ever read. Well, it had fairy tale like aspects. And Greek mythology. And mad scientists. And magic. How about everything but the kitchen sink. Though that was probably in there as well.
Pen is the main character, a young girl in high school, wrestling with who she is, a fierce love of her family and her dog, best friend to two girls that she loves dearly, so smart that she reads the encyclopedia for fun. She is like a mother bear protective of her little brother. She wants to protect him from anything that could hurt him in this world, yet she is not a killer, or even someone that could hurt another. She doesn't even kill bugs. She loves art and likens a lot of things she sees to famous artwork that she's seen thanks to her mother taking her and her brother to art galleries. She is special, but doesn't know how special, until she needs it.
Venice- Pen's little brother. He has dreams of the world ending and monsters coming for him. He hides from them in his mind. He's smart and tries to be tough, like boys are supposed to be. He is tough. He's special too.
Hex- He becomes a sort of leader of Pen's new family when she goes to hunt for her family. He does what must be done. He's a singer, a fighter, a leader and smart.
Ezra- Rescued by Pen and Hex. He's a brilliant artist and a mean chef. He provides good company on their journey.
Ash- A gifted musician, and very beautiful with dreadlocks and lighter than paper bag skin, another person picked up to join the Odyssey to find Pen's family.
Kronnen- The bad guy. Evil genius. Cause of the apocalypse. Don't need much more than that.
The World- It starts with "The Earthshaker" and then the wave. The earth suffers several severe earthquakes and then several tidal waves. Pen is saved because she ran back inside holding Argos, the dog, before the wave could claim her. But it got her family and Argos. And the world is silent. For a long time. Her father thought something was going to happen and he stocked up on food and water. She doesn't see anyone else.
She's afraid she might be the only one still alive. The air is ashy. There are fires. And the water has risen.
Everything is crumbling. It is apocalyptic and unlike most stories, there is no one around to marshal the troops and take charge. There aren't enough people left to marshal. No government in charge. Nothing.
The Story- The first half of the story begins with the destruction of the world and Pen looking back on her life with her family and her friends. Then she gets a chance to escape and she goes on an Odyssey like journey. She even picks up a guy, Hex, who reads from the Odyssey. Their "trials" mirror those of Odysseus' on his trip home from Troy. That is to a point. Then, maybe it's my interpretation that I can't see the relevance in the second half, it bears no more resemblance to The Odyssey. Yet, love and hope, almost unbelievable hope lives in Pen's heart and is rewarded for her faith.
What I thought-
I will say the writing is incredible. I've never read anything by this author but I am truly in awe of her powerful writing. I could feel Pen's feelings as she sat in her pink house near the sea and marked red lines on the wall to count the days since "The Earthshaker". I felt that lonely without Block ever having had to write that word. She showed me lonely. That's a gift. I definitely recommend this novel. I had a good time trying to match the parts of the story to what I knew (not much) of The Odyssey. Is it sad that I know more about The Odyssey from reading MG and YA novels than because I have actually read The Odyssey itself? I have to admit that I felt as if I was reading two different books. The Odyssey part was really working for me. And then I felt like the last part was just rushed and very un- Odyssey like. I thought the formula was working. I liked the ending, but either the book should have been longer and should have followed The Odyssey formula or there should have been a longer second part to the story. The ending just came too quick.
But what it all came down to was faith and hope can be found in even the worst of places. So you'll find if you see where Pen (Penelope which was Odysseus' wife's name) finds hope. And faith. Tiniest of places. And now that I think about it, if Pen had had to wait for ten years like Odysseus and his wife and his son did, I wouldn't have liked the ending. So maybe it's good Ms. Block didn't follow that part of the Odyssey.
Anyway, I'd recommend this novel to just about anyone. I'd say it hits fantasy, apocalyptic, paranormal, Greek Mythology, family relationships, LGBT, magical realism, romance. Haven't hit your genre? Sorry, then just read it because of the great writing. It isn't contemporary and there aren't issues per se, there's really not enough people left to preach their brand of morality. It's definitely for an older reader as there is some violence, some sexual acts (not gratuitous), and some language.
I received an ebook of and Advance Reader's Copy of the novel from the publisher. This did not influence my review. The thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.