Re-reading childhood favourites: Jinx

This is stretching it a bit in terms of “childhood” favourites. But this is my series, so really, I can do what I want.

Jinx by Meg Cabot was released in 2007. I was in high school at the time, and around the same age as the characters are in the book. This makes this book technically a teenage favourite, but I’m counting it. I was very into Meg Cabot’s books at the time. I had them all–the whole Princess Diaries series, Avalon High, Airhead, All-American Girl, all her adult books. I read them all over and over, Jinx included. But it’s been a few years since I’ve gone back to Jinx, so why not do that now.

Jinx: Cabot, Meg: 9780060837662: Books - Amazon.ca

I remembered the basic concept of the book before starting my re-read. Jean or “Jinx” is a teenage girl who moves in with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in New York City after an incident at her old school. She’s nicknamed “Jinx” because of the massive storm and power outage that occurred at the moment of her birth, and because of the string of clumsiness and accidents that seem to follow her around. I remembered random details–like a gazebo in the back garden of the house where action took place. I also remembered really loving her love interest in this book. I remembered him being chill and likeable and someone who I understood why she liked him and why I was meant to root for them together.

This latter point remains true upon re-read. I do like the love interest! Maybe not as much as I did as a teen–which makes sense, since I’m no longer a teenager and he’s a 16 year old boy–and he’s idealized in some ways, but I still really like him and find his friendship and chemistry with Jean fun to read. I still get why they make sense as a couple, and that’s important to me.

In this book Jean, her cousin Tory, and her friends, all get involved at some point in witchcraft. Tory and Jean’s grandmother had told them both a story about how once of their ancestors was apparently a witch and said that they’d be the ones to inherit powers, thinking it a fun story. But Tory and Jean took it very seriously, unbeknownst to one another at first. I was surprised upon re-read how ambiguous the witchcraft was kept in the novel. I remembered the witchcraft being a lot more blatantly….magical. Whereas upon reading it, it feels like the author leaves it up to the audience whether to believe the witchcraft as they use it is real or not. Both explanations–real or not real–makes sense in the context of the book and even in the context of the characters.

It’s a short book, only about 260 pages, and it’s a fun and breezy read. It’s almost like reading the script for a teen movie. I feel like I would have wanted some of the side characters to be more fleshed out, or to sit in moments a bit longer, but at the same time, I can tell that isn’t what this book is trying to be. It’s a teen movie read.

I can still enjoy things, like this book, that I enjoyed as a teen. I don’t think that because I don’t enjoy it in the exact same way that I did as a teenager, it means I enjoy it less, or that it isn’t serving its purpose as a book. Jinx is cute and fun and a bit of a twist on a typical high school drama novel. Would still buy for any teenager in my life today.

Re-reading childhood favourites: A Tale of Time City

Yes, this is another Diana Wynne Jones book.

You can tell A Tale of Time City was one of my favourite books growing up just by looking my copy of it. The edges of the cover and spine are torn and frayed, there are pages with creases where I dog eared the pages as a child, and the corners are soft and worn. It’s not surprising that this was a favourite, and remains one even now, on re-read. It’s by one of my favourite authors and it involves light science fiction, time travel, and history, some of my favourite things.

9780006755203 - AbeBooks

This book was released in 1987 as a stand-alone novel by Diana Wynne-Jones. It follows a young girl, Vivian Smith, who is being evacuated from London to the countryside in 1939 due to the start of World War 2. She gets whisked away by two boys, Jonathan and Sam, who (incorrectly) believe she is a legendary figure in the history of Time City. Time City is the city where the boys are from; a city that exists outside of history itself in its own patch of time and oversees the course of history, observing but also ensuring it stays on the right path. Although she is not the legendary figure they think she is, she still stays in Time City and helps them figure out what is really going on with the disruptions in history.

Having read this book so many times growing up, I had a pretty clear memory of characters and plot points, especially once I started reading. But there were still some details and moments I had forgotten, and finding them again was really fun. There were moments that still gave me great satisfaction, even though I knew I had read them before. The characters all felt familiar, like old friends, even when they did things I had forgotten about.

I had forgotten how genuinely funny some parts of this book are. As an adult, I still found myself laughing. It’s possible that says more about my sense of humour than anything, but I think Diana Wynne Jones is very witty in her writing in a way that often can be appreciated by readers of all ages. I also found myself really appreciating the creativity of this novel. Obviously, all “history” after the time this book was written had to be invented, and I think she made a lot of really cool and creative choices. I think a lot of them were also very logical choices. Examples include: World War 4, the Revolt of Canada, the Demise of Europe, the Depopulation of Earth, and the Mind Wars. The last one has a larger focus in the book and I think it’s a really cool and interesting and kind of terrifying concept–that these wars were fought by doing damage to peoples minds, not with guns.

Time City itself is also a pretty cool concept, and one of the things I remember really drawing me to the book over and over as a kid. It’s a city outside of time itself, that borrows technology and entertainment and food from all over history, managing to both form a culture of its own while doing this, and appear to have little of its own stuff at all. The book also goes into the problems with the city and what they do, alongside the cool aspects that made it a place a child reading it would want to visit. I still want to visit.

The ending was a bit more abrupt then I remembered it being. As I was doing this re-read, I remember looking at how many pages were left and thinking “that can’t be right” before I remembered. This isn’t to say that it’s an unsatisfying ending or an unhappy ending or even that it didn’t wrap up all the plot points. It was even a satisfying last line! It’s just an interesting choice in terms of where to end it, especially for a book largely written for children.

I’m happy I did this reread. I still love this book and think it’s a really cool, fun, and interesting concept. I’m 29 years old and will still return to this book after this. That said, I think next time I do this, I’ll read a book I either read less or have re-read less often, to see the difference. I know I said that last time…and probably the time before…but I’ll get there eventually I swear.

Even if you’re an adult, if you like time travel and fantasy, pick up a copy of this at a library and give it a read. It’s a good time.

Re-reading childhood favourites: Witch Week

As a child, one of my all time favourite authors was Diana Wynne Jones. She wrote very British, kind of quirky, youth-oriented fantasy and magical realism. And I read every single one of them. A lot of the books are ones I have re-read throughout my life, and I think they really hold up. I didn’t even read Howl’s Moving Castle, for example, until I was an adult, and it remains one of my fave books of all time. One of her ongoing series was books set in the The Worlds of Chrestomanci, the name for the position of a very powerful enchanter with nine lives. Many of the books are set in the would Chrestomanci exists in, but others are in other worlds or countries. The book I re-read this time around, Witch Week, was set in another world, and Chrestomanci doesn’t show up until the end.

Witch Week (Chrestomanci, #3) by Diana Wynne Jones

I’ve always loved witches–my name is Sabrina, so this should not be surprising–and I remember reading Witch Week over and over when I was younger. Even so, for some reason it wasn’t one I had returned to in a while, so I thought it was the perfect one to go with. Even though it had been a while, I was surprised by HOW well I remembered character names and descriptions and events in the novel. It wasn’t the case where I could have listed off the plot before the re-read, but as I was going I would be thinking “Oh yes and then this happens later.” It didn’t ruin the reading experience for me, however. While I love reading and watching new things, I don’t have trouble getting invested even when I know exactly where the story is going and what happens.

Witch Week is set in a world very much like our own, but where magic is outlawed even though it is fairly common. Even though it’s set in around the 80s, witches and witch sympathizers who are discovered are still burned at the stake. We experience this world from the perspective of students and teachers at a British boarding school called Larwood House, specifically class 2Y. The book opens with one of the teachers finding an anonymous note that says “SOMEONE IN THIS CLASS IS A WITCH” and it’s not long before we find out just how true that is.

While the book is all written in third person and with the same humour and style throughout, each character who gets a main focus has a specific perspective. This was something I probably noticed when I read it when I was younger, but could only appreciate and put a name to reading it now. It made it easier to understand the motivations of the characters–especially the children characters. This is also one of those books where you learn about the world as you go through the eyes of people actually living in it, instead of explained through an exposition dump, and some things you just kind of figure out as you go (for example, the word “magic” is used as a swear word in this world). I generally enjoy that in a book. Closer to the end of the book, when Chrestomanci arrives and they have to explain things to him, we as readers have a pretty clear grasp on the world, so it’s pretty comedic when the child characters are trying to explain things to him when they aren’t even sure what he needs explained.

The rules of magic and the rules of multiple universes are quite consistent in these books, both individually and as a group, and I love that. I know that sounds almost contradictory, but I feel like it’s important to have an internalized logic that makes sense, even when it’s magic. I really like the brand of magic in this world, and the major spells cast in this book are pretty interesting. There’s one that stood out on re-read that they call the “Simon Says” spell. One of the characters casts a spell on another boy he hates who is named Simon, so that everything Simon says is true. At first Simon has fun with it when he discovers it–turning things into gold coins or diamonds, for example. But he soon discovers it’s EVERY SINGLE THING he says, and it suddenly gets a lot more dangerous. It’s a spell that makes sense within the logic of the world, within the story, AND that a kid would cast it and not consider the bigger consequences.

Maybe I should re-read a book I don’t remember as well. But I have no regrets re-reading Witch Week. It’s still fun and well-written and a quick read. I will always enjoy Diana Wynne Jones’ books and recommend them even to adults.

Re-reading childhood favourites: Dial-A-Ghost

As a child, I was a voracious reader. I learned how to read fairly early and was working my way through libraries and book stores and book fairs from an early age. I accumulated quite a collection of books, and of course, could not bear to part with many of them. While there have been faves I’ve re-read often in recent years–Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, The Merlin Conspiracy, just to name a few–there are some books I re-read over and over as a child and as a teen I haven’t picked up in a while. So of course, I decided now, when I just got a new job, would be a good time to get to some of them. If only I had thought of it last year.

The first book I decided to tackle? Dial-A-Ghost by Eva Ibbotson. I thought of it randomly the other week, and how often I read it as a kid, and decided I absolutely had to re-read it.

Dial-a-Ghost - Wikipedia

Dial-A-Ghost is mostly the story of a family of ghosts, The Wilkinsons. The whole family dies in World War 2 and become ghosts–very pleasant, very polite, very clean ghosts. They continue to live in their home, even as other people move in, and adopt a young ghost girl who has amnesia who they call Addie. Eventually their family home is torn down so, to their displeasure, they have to go live in a “knicker shop.” They soon come across a business called “Dial-A-Ghost” which works to give ghosts a good home (in this book, some people can see ghosts, and some cannot. the ladies who run the business can see ghosts, the knicker shop owners can’t). We are also introduced to a boy named Oliver Smith, a ten year old orphan who is discovered to be the true heir of a stately home belonging to his ancestors, the Snodde-Brittles. Most of the Snodde-Brittles were horrible people and died in terrible ways (run through by a rhinoceros, strangled by their tie, etc), so Oliver (whose great grandfather changed his name and left the family) is the last true heir along with his cousins. His cousins are awful people who try and hire some ghosts to terrify Oliver to death so they can inherit the estate and the money that comes with it. There’s a mix-up and so instead, Oliver (luckily for him), gets the Wilkinsons instead.

This book has always felt very British to me. The names are British, their manners are British, the Wilkinsons in particular are a very proper British family, the class lines are British. I think a lot of the humour is rather British too, although that could be the wrong way to describe it. It was a type of humour I really responded to as a kid, and still enjoy today. A lot of the jokes are a bit more subtle, a bit off-centre, don’t hit you over the head. Of course because it’s a book for younger readers, there’s some more blatant comedy and a lot of that comes from visual descriptions. This book has a lot of really clear imagery, which I think is part of the reason I enjoyed reading it so much as a kid.

It’s not just humorous imagery that’s clear in Dial-A-Ghost though. I was surprised at how dark and violent some things in the book were, even reading it now. This was mostly in the scenes with the Shriekers, two ghosts who Oliver’s cousins INTEND to send to scare him. They are a married couple of ghosts who have gone mad (the woman is named Sabrina so that’s fun) and not only are the physical descriptions of them disgusting, but they are known for murdering children and animals. And their THIRST for this is described, how they want to strangle them or slice them open. I’m amazed child me wasn’t more disturbed by it. On a more down to earth level, Oliver’s cousins mistreat the children at the boarding school they own. This is almost harder to read.

While the book mostly keeps a lighter jovial tone, with a lot of fun and absurd elements, the book talks a lot about death and loss, for obvious reasons. Some of this is dealt with lightly or glossed over, but the subject matter naturally leads to some quiet or somber moments. Probably the somber moment that sat with me most, however, was when Oliver was first living in the tower of the new estate he owns, all alone. He’s lonely and scared and almost resigned to the thought that he’s going to die there.

The book has a happy ending, of course. It could almost be considered too happy if the more absurdist elements of the story weren’t in play. And when finishing, I concluded that I still really enjoy this book. Sure some of it could be the nostalgia factor. But it’s different. Despite being clearly for younger readers, it never feels like it’s talking down to them. It deals with death and loneliness but it’s also weird and clever and very very British. I get why I liked it as a kid and I get why I like it now.