Friday, November 14, 2008

Review - The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
I've seen this book for a while now and heard/read many good things about it. And yet, for some reason, reading the summary on the back didn't drive me to read it...until this last week. For those who don't know, the gist of the story is that there is a "china doll rabbit" that a little girl has named Edward Tulane. She loves him immensely. Unfortunately, one day, Edward gets lost and begins a journey.

The synopsis reminded me a bit of the movie Toy Story. As I started reading, I was surprised to find that this wasn't going to be like Toy Story because unlike Buzz and Woody, you quickly discover that Edward is not "alive" in the same sense. He's sentient and we follow his adventures in a close third person with a lot of insights into his thoughts and vision. But he has no ability to walk, talk, or otherwise try and return home.

Upon discovering that Edward had no motor skills, I actually grew more interested in the story. Rather than being a simple retelling of the "lost & moveable toy" stories we've seen again and again, this is a very introspective tale.

Characters

The main character is, obviously, Edward Tulane, the china rabbit who gets lost and goes on a "miraculous journey." When we first meet Edward, he is an arrogant, self-involved, elegant and well dressed china rabbit with a high opinion of himself and a rather blasé attitude towards anyone else.

Abilene Tulane is the girl who owns and cares for Edward at the beginning of the book. She loves him dearly and it's evident from her behavior that he is her prized possession and she definitely considers him more than just a simple toy. To her, she is a true friend.

Pellegrina is Abilene's grandmother and the one who gave her Edward in the first place. Pellegrina is an intriguing character who also thinks of Edward as more than just a toy, but we're never explicitly told exactly what she thinks he is, other than a disappointment.

The rest of the characters in the book are very intriguing and a lot of fun as well. DiCamillo does an excellent job of creating rich and vibrant characters in a small amount of space with simple and engaging language. Each character Edward interacts with throughout the story is intriguing and full. Some are given extensive handling and we grow with them for many chapters. Others exist only for a few pages and are still full and alive.

Experience/Setup/Language

As I mentioned initially, I was somewhat put off at reading another Toy Story type book. Upon discovering that Edward was not "alive" in the normal sense, I actually grew more intrigued in the story. Since I was engaging in the story through Edward's eyes, it helped me relate to him more since he could not control the outcome of the journey any more than I could.

We were each passive travelers on a strange path through the world. I had Edward's thoughts, hopes and dreams to help narrate the journey. At the same time, I had my own insights and desires arguing along with him and telling him to "snap out of it" and start trying to engage himself in life.

The language was simple and engaging. The book jacket suggests the novel is for ages 7+. The first page made me wonder at that designation as I ran across words like "jaunty" and "ennui" to describe Edward's moods. I was quickly too engrossed to really pay attention to any language difficulties. As an adult, the pacing was quick and the language helped encourage that. I read the entire book in ~1 hour (and that included the distractions as my wife watched Perry Mason over my shoulder). This is definitely accessible by young readers.

Plot/Form/Genre

I don't want to spend too much time on plot other than to comment that it was very effective in showing the growth of Edward.

Speaking generally, this story is essentially a Fairy Tale. Most fairy tales have rather static and predictable "typecast" characters used to make a point. As I mentioned above, DiCamillo fleshes out her characters and makes them alive. Almost at the risk of making them overpower the fairy tale genre. To help mitigate this, she uses very short chapters and (aside from Edward) swaps up the main characters every ~2-3 chapters.

This constant change in characters might have been disconcerting, but in fact it didn't bother me at all. Rather I saw it as being very effective in helping me relate more to Edward and better understand what was going on and the lessons he was learning.

Art

I would be remiss not to comment on the gorgeous artwork of this book. Each chapter plate includes a small graphic. There are also numerous full-color, full-page illustrations scattered throughout the novel. In reading aloud to young children, it is very important to them to have illustrations. My kids are constantly begging to see the pictures...even if the only pictures I can show them aren't associated with whatever we just read.

I am certain that kids will love the illustrations in this book. They are vibrant and rich, full of bright warm colors and excellently drawn characters and settings. The illustrations serve to heighten the emotions of the book and make it a complete experience.

Overall

Despite my original thinking that this was a pithy story that would have no depth to it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I very much enjoyed this book. The characters were endearing. I was worried at times that it wouldn't have a "happy ending" which would be an outrage and yet sometimes true to form in the fairy tale genre. I was pleased to find that it did have a happy ending.

The ending itself bordered on being "too sentimental" for my taste. (I generally abhor the stories & songs out there that are overly sentimental....you know the type...the "my sister's sick and I scraped together pennies from the sewer to buy her something pretty she can wear until she dies in two weeks"...that sort of thing). While this ending was sentimental and somewhat predictable, it was still enjoyable and left me not feeling cheated or manipulated, but instead, I felt pleased and content.

In thinking more about the point of view and the state of the character, I view this book as an insightful journey into our own soul. We, like Edward, are hapless travelers on an intriguing journey. We are presented with unique characters and situations and prompted to respond. Edward's thoughts help shape our response, but in the end, I believe that our own personal response to this story can be a very insightful glimpse into our own soul.

I really enjoyed this book and I hope my kids enjoy it as well.

*****
4.5 stars

3 comments:

Rebel Writer said...

how did you do your blog? it looks... totally wickedish and pimped out.
Thanks for reading my story.

mariposa said...

I really like how you review books & separate different categories. Also, thanks for your insight about prisoners - you're so right about how not all prisoners are locked up. Thanks!

Okie said...

Rebel, the web design was taken from "Info Creek". I've done some minimal coding & web work in the past, but didn't feel proficient enough to try and build my own blog template. Basically, I wanted something that looked/felt classy and intriguing and that had at least 3 columns.

Mariposa, thanks for your comment on my review style. At times I feel like I'm rambling too much, but I decided when I started that I'd rather do a "full" review than a quick one paragraph review.