AWW2013: The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

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Dortchen Wild fell in love with Wilhelm Grimm the first time she saw him.

Growing up in the small German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel in early Nineteenth century, Dortchen Wild is irresistibly drawn to the boy next door, the young and handsome fairy tale scholar Wilhelm Grimm. 

It is a time of War, tyranny and terror. Napoleon Bonaparte wants to conquer all of Europe, and Hessen-Cassel is one of the first kingdoms to fall. Forced to live under oppressive French rule, the Grimm brothers decide to save old tales that had once been told by the firesides of houses grand and small all over the land.

Dortchen knows many beautiful old stories, such as ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Frog King’ and ‘Six Swans’. As she tells them to Wilhelm, their love blossoms. Yet the Grimm family is desperately poor, and Dortchen’s father has other plans for his daughter. Marriage is an impossible dream.

Dortchen can only hope that happy endings are not just the stuff of fairy tales.

Kate Forsyth once again delves into the world of fairy tales, The Wild Girl following on from the retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale, Bitter Greens. This time, Forsyth focuses not so much on the fairy tales, but those who famously collected the old tales – the Brothers Grimm. More specifically, this story is focused around a woman whom history has shadowed, Henriette Dorothea Wild, known as Dortchen Wild.

Dortchen Wild grew up next to the Grimm family in the German kingdom of Hessen-Kassel, the kingdom itself subject to the rise and fall of the Napoleonic wars. Wild herself was the source of many of the tales that the Grimm brothers collected, and went on to marry Wilhelm.

In The Wild Girl, Forsyth gives Dortchen Wild the life that history leaves out. Dortchen is the wild girl, headstrong by nature, and happiest in the gardens and wild places. From the first, she finds herself drawn to Wilhelm, though she knows that her father would never allow them to marry, for the Grimms are too poor.

As Dortchen’s life progresses, the lightness and wildness of her youth are thrown into shadow. And a fair warning needs to go here – there is physical and sexual abuse in this book, which may be triggering for some readers. But there is also much redemption – Dortchen herself speaks about the redemptive power of story, and the novel itself is a fine example of how powerfully a story can redeem and bring light.

The prose in this novel is utterly beautiful. At times, it is pared back so much that it seems almost plain (though always serviceable), but then Forsyth inserts an almost painfully beautiful phrase or image. Everything feels real – the huge events of history that pass around Dortchen’s life, seen only in fragments by her are nonetheless full of impact. Forsyth manages to convey perfectly how an event like a war affects people on the individual level as Dortchen and her family live and grow (and sometimes fall).

There is a lot of darkness in this novel, just as there is darkness in so many of the fairy tales gathered by the Grimm brothers (and the parts of the tales that are woven into this story do a fabulous job of reflecting that). But just as in the fairy tales, even in darkness there is always hope.

An absolutely beautiful and much recommended read. An extremely worthy follow-up to Bitter Greens.

AWW2013: When We Wake by Karen Healey

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My name is Tegan Oglietti, and on the last day of my first lifetime, I was so, so happy.

Sixteen-year-old Tegan is just like every other girl living in 2027–she’s happiest when playing the guitar, she’s falling in love for the first time, and she’s joining her friends to protest the wrongs of the world: environmental collapse, social discrimination, and political injustice.

But on what should have been the best day of Tegan’s life, she dies–and wakes up a hundred years in the future, locked in a government facility with no idea what happened.

Tegan is the first government guinea pig to be cryonically frozen and successfully revived, which makes her an instant celebrity–even though all she wants to do is try to rebuild some semblance of a normal life. But the future isn’t all she hoped it would be, and when appalling secrets come to light, Tegan must make a choice: Does she keep her head down and survive, or fight for a better future?

Award-winning author Karen Healey has created a haunting, cautionary tale of an inspiring protagonist living in a not-so-distant future that could easily be our own.

 

Tegan Oglietti is sixteen and on her way to an environmental protest with her best friend Alex and boyfriend of one day, Dalmar. She is happy and ready to take on the world. Then a sniper attempts to assassinate the Prime Minister and hits Tegan instead.

The next thing Tegan knows, she is waking up to her “second life”. It is a hundred years later, and Tegan has been cryogenically frozen, a volunteer by stint of a form she signed allowing her body to be left to science. Everyone she knew and loved is dead.

The world has changed. Climate change has occurred: the seas have risen, temperatures have increased, meat eating is a rare thing, seen as earth hating.

From the beginning, Tegan fights. For information, for a computer, for freedom. She manages to get her way: moved to a house (mostly located belowground for coolness) with Marie, the head of the cryogenic revival project, and allowed to attend school. There she meets Bethari, Joph and Abdi, the boy who she mistakes at first for Dalmar.

Tegan is a believable and likeable protagonist. From the first page her voice is clear and true, and it is easy to always be on her side, even when she makes decisions that put her in danger. Healey writes her with a good balance of being scared and intrigued by the world she is reborn into. She sees the positive things – a world which is more ecologically aware, where gender, sexuality and race are more accepted in all of their variations. And she also sees the negatives immediately – Australia’s no immigration policy, and the attitude towards people from the third world.

Each of the other teenage characters is written as well as Tegan. All of them are believable and all have their own voices and personality – this isn’t a book where you find yourself having to figure out which character is which (as often happens in a lot of YA, I’ve found).

The pacing of the book is great, too, aided by a technique where Healey intersperses Tegan telling her story in the present (and inserting little nuggets of information to keep the reader interested) and in the past. Tegan is a fan of the Beatles, a fact that is used well to ground the reader and make Tegan more relatable in world foreign to the reader (but one that is all too easily imagined as a future of this world).

There is definitely a lot more to be explored in this future world, and in the conspiracies that Tegan and her friends have only begun to uncover.

Absolutely worth the read. I’ll be looking forward to the next book.