Heidi

Rating: 
Author: Johanna Spyri
Genres: Children’s, Middle Grade, Classic
Pub date: 1880 (read Jan. 2019)

Oh Heidi, a girl after my own heart. I bought a new copy of Anne of Green Gables last year after my childhood copy was accidentally donated and decided to pick up copies of both Heidi and the Secret Garden, which had cute matching covers. I never read Heidi as a child, but I was into the mountain setting and was basically hoping for Anne of Green Gables set in Switzerland.

Heidi definitely does not have the same charm as Anne, who is one of my all-time favourite female characters, but I could appreciate her love of the simple life and the fresh mountain air. Heidi is a little orphan girl who, up to the age of 5, lived with her Aunt in the small Swiss town of Dorfli. At the age of 5, her aunt decides she has spent enough resources on Heidi and drags her up the mountainside to instead live with her Grandfather. Her grandfather is seen as a bit of a hermit by the townspeople and is fairly misunderstood, so they all pity Heidi when they see her on the way up the mountain.

However, Heidi immediately settles into life at her Grandfather’s cabin and is totally enamored with the beautiful mountain views, the wildflowers, and her neighbour Peter, the local goat-herder. Likewise, her Grandfather’s life is taken over by Heidi and he starts to find a new joy in life. I thought the whole mountain setting – two misfits finding love with one another – story was brilliant and was totally into this book at the beginning. I can see why it’s a classic, but like I said, Heidi just doesn’t have quite the same charm as my other beloved children’s books and it’s pretty slow moving. I struggled through the story at times and unfortunately, the ending of the book hasn’t really aged all that well.

It is a sweet story with christian undertones and themes. In the middle of the story, Heidi is extremely distraught when she is removed from her grandfathers and forced to live in Frankfurt. She finds the town so dark and dreary and she doesn’t understand the way of life, so she is misunderstood by those around her and yearns more than anything to return to Grandfathers. She learns about God and is taught to put her trust in his plan and is ultimately rewarded by her prayers and faith. While some elements were problematic, I was impressed that this book features both a girl in a wheelchair and a blind person.

I can’t write this review without discussing the ending, so if you’re unfamiliar with this classic and plan to read it, please stop reading here. SPOILERS AHEAD.

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So I didn’t really like the ending of this book. I definitely don’t fault the author for it because this was written in the 1800’s, but in my opinion the ending doesn’t really hold up today. I had two issues with the ending, the first of which is that Peter sucks! Peter is a pretty big introvert, whereas Heidi loves people and making new friends, and he is constantly threatened by Heidi’s other relationships and acts out pretty aggressively in his jealousy (both with the Doctor and Clara). My problem was that Peter’s behaviour was totally wrong, but he never really suffered any consequence from it. He destroys Clara’s chair for heaven’s sake and though he feels bad after, no one ever holds him accountable to his actions. They were just teaching him it’s okay to be an asshole.

My second issue was with Clara suddenly gaining the ability to walk by sheer force of will and the power of fresh mountain air (supposedly). I don’t fault the author because I’m sure people with disabilities had it rough in this era and their disabilities were not as well understood. So gifting her character with the ability to walk again seems like the perfect ending to a childhood story. It just doesn’t really stand up today and I’d hate for little girls in wheelchairs to read this book and be preached the message that if they just pray and want it enough, they might be able to walk again too. Or to feel like they can only achieve happiness by the curing of their disability and that the ultimate dream is to escape your disability. I liked Clara because despite her disability and sickness, she had a great attitude and didn’t actually seem that hampered by her disability. Being in a chair is nothing to feel bad about and is not an impediment on happiness. So I just don’t think this ending holds up in light of the body positivity movement and is a little insulting to the less able-bodied.

3 stars for the sweet story and setting, but beware some of the ideas are a little preachy and out-dated.

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The Child Finder

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Rene Denfeld
Genres: Mystery
Pub Date: Sept. 2017 (read Mar. 2018)

I tore through this short mystery novel in 2 days. The Child Finder tells the story of Naomi, a private investigator who specializes in lost children and has gained a reputation as the ‘Child Finder’. She’s been hired by a couple in Oregon whose daughter disappeared 3 years ago into a snowy forest and was never found. Naomi grew up in Oregon and the return to the woods reminds her of her own upbringing with her foster mom and foster brother, as well as the dark past she has blocked from her memory. As she searches for Madison and her foster mom’s health declines, she must face her own past and relationships in order to ever be whole.

Setting and atmosphere are key in this novel and I loved them both. The story takes place deep in Oregon’s wilderness and in a land of perpetual winter. Denfeld integrates fairy tales into the story and I thought they worked so well against the backdrop of the snowy forest. Everything is so secluded within the park that you feel transported back in time to when trappers still ran the land and lived in their log cabins in the woods, living off the land. Naomi is very much an island herself and the setting mirrored her struggle to build relationships and set down roots. She is always on the move from one missing child case to the next, always running from her past.

I liked this as both a mystery novel and a character study. I really liked Naomi and I’d be interested in reading a sequel to see her deal with her own ghosts and guilt. She was complex, yet simple. I was impressed with how well the author crafted her character in such a short book. I love when characters are so well crafted that they take on a life of their own and you can almost anticipate how they will react because you feel you’ve come to know them so well. I felt this way about Naomi and as much as I wanted her to settle down, I understood why she always had to keep moving.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about the plot. It’s a pretty simple story overall and it felt more about Naomi’s growth than the actual mystery. I liked that the author included two missing children cases, as well as snippets of Naomi’s back story, because it added a bit more intrigue to the book. I quite liked the writing. It was simple but it also had this dreamy quality to it which I thought flowed well throughout the story and is what really helped to create the atmosphere.

Disclaimer, this book does have some disturbing content, but I thought it was actually handled really well by the author. Some books are needlessly gratuitous about physical and sexual violence, and while this book has both, I thought it was well written. It offers some interesting insight into the cycle of abuse and how isolation and never knowing love can impact children and the people they grow up to be.

Even the Darkest Stars

Rating: 
Author: Heather Fawcett
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Read: Sept. 2017

 

I can’t decide between 3 and 4 stars, so I’m rounding up.

Yay for Canadian authors and even more yay for a Vancouver author! I absolutely loved the setting in this novel. I live in Vancouver and I’m a little bit obsessed with hiking and mountains (as are a lot of Vancouverites) and I’ve always been fascinated with climbing expeditions, so I was super stoked to read the synopsis for Even the Darkest Stars. Also, the cover art is the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen!

Even the Darkest Stars is set in a fantasy version of the Himalayas. Kamzin and her sister Lusha live in a tiny village at the base of Mount Raksha, the biggest and least explored mountain in the empire. All her life Kamzin has dreamed of setting off on an adventure and of being an explorer, so when the Royal Explorer River Shara shows up in her village on an expedition to climb Mount Raksha and retrieve a rare talisman, Kamzin is determined to assist him. When Lusha disappears in the dead of night with one of River’s expeditionary crew to retrieve the talisman first, River hires Kamzin and they race to catch up to Lusha and get to the talisman first.

I liked the narrator and the writing from the start, but it took about half of the book for it to really pick up. There was a lot of journeying in the first half of the book and limited action – and when there was action it often happened very quickly and felt kind of out of place. But I really enjoyed the second half of the book and I definitely want to read the sequel!

I thought the “twist” was a bit obvious, but it didn’t take away from the story. I loved Kamzin and River’s characters and I can’t wait to learn more about River in the next book, but I felt the rest of the cast was a bit lacklustre. I don’t think I really learned enough about Lusha or Tem to really love them. We’re told that Lusha and Kamzin had a contentious relationship growing up, but I would have liked to have learn more about their history to back it up.

But like I said, the setting was really the strongest part of this novel and I’m interested to see what Fawcett does with it in the sequel!