By Way of Introduction

This blog gathers together my reviews of speculative fiction books for kids and teens in which the central protagonists are multicultural. The reviews were originally published at my main blog, Charlotte's Library. I'm adding labels (a rather fraught process), so that people can find specific diversities...doubtless I"ll be tweeking them as I go.

This blog is a work in progress--I have well over 100 more reviews already written to add to it, and I hope I'll add many more new books, interviews, and other content about diverse books!

(also to come are links to other websites and blogs....)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Come Fall, by A.C.E. Bauer (2010)

Come Fall, by A.C.E. Bauer (Random House 2010, middle grade, 229 pages)

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Titania and Oberon are in the midst of a bitter quarrel over a human changeling--each of them wants the boy. Titania says, of the child's mother:
"But she, being mortal, of that boy did die.
And for her sake do I rear up her boy;
And for her sake I will not part with him."

What if, Bauer asks, this changeling boy were a modern child, living in Bridgeport, Connecticut? What if the quarrel of the fairy king and queen spilled over into our 21st century world?

Enter Salman Page, a foster kid living in a trailer near the town line, working hard in the garden under the firm hand of his "mother," and threatened by his unpleasant foster "father." He's determined to fly under the radar of his new school, sitting with his back to the wall in the cafeteria where his dark skin and hair will blend with the darkness of its paint.

His plan doesn't work. He's been assigned a mentor--a lonely, kind girl named Lu, who soon moves from "designated buddy" to real friend. And joining them at the lunch table is Blos--a kid so literal, so set in his ways, so odd--that he is shunned by most of the kids at school; only Salman and Lu have the understanding to accept him for who he is. And Salman has a third friend--Bird, a great black crow, who keeps attendance on him. With friends like this, it is hard to stay invisible (especially when your crow flies up to bring you something shinny, right where everyone can see it).
This unlikely trio (quartet, if you count Bird), aren't going to be left in peace. Because Oberon and Titania are engaged in a power struggle, and Puck has been charged by Oberon to sow mischief in Salman's path. Gradually, things become harder for the kids, as their classmates turn against them. For Lu, who's never been an outsider, it's especially incomprehensible. But then Puck is ordered to turn his attentions to Salman's foster father...and things get worse.

In essence, this is a middle grade story of friendship, one of negotiating the complexities of growing up and being true to one's self. And it's a fine example of that genre. The magical underpinnings are unobtrusive, linked to the events of the "real" world, but not so much as to make the kids' story, in itself, a fantasy. In fact, the story of Salman, Lu, and Blos could stand alone without the fairies.

But Titania, Oberon, and Puck add a dimension to it that gives it a special zest, a magical intrigue that makes a fairly predictable story into something more. I wish, myself, that there had been even more magic spilling into the mortal world. In general, the fairies are kept confined to their own short sections of text, which disappointed me (fan of magic in the real world that I am). But still, an excellent book full of vivid characterization (although I think it might be enjoyed by fans of realistic fiction more than by fans of fantasy).

Here's Bauer talking about how Come Fall came to be, at John Scalzi's Whatever.

For those interested in diversity in kids' fantasy--Salman is shown front and center on the cover (they're all tiny, but he's in front). He isn't certain of his own ethnicity (since his parents are an unknown quanity to him) but the assumption made about him is that he's South Asian, and this is supported by Titania's recollections of his mother. Blos is a fine addition to the growing group of kids in mg fiction with Asperger's/autism spectrum. (Lu isn't "diverse", but she is one heck of a nice girl).

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