What I Look for in a Good Character

One of my favorite characters is Arthur in The Once and Future King, by TH White. This is the same book that the Disney cartoon The Sword in the Stone is based on, although that story is only a small part of the book. The book follows King Arthur from his days as an awkward adopted orphan called “Wart,” through his experiences of pulling the sword from the stone and becoming King. He then goes on to unite small scattered kingdoms that become England. This story was not new when TH White wrote it. He was collecting 1000 years worth of legends and tales and turning them into a single story. His characterization of Arthur, Guinevere, the other knights, and the villains Morgan le Fey and Mordred were what made this story great. Instead of being the stiff, one-dimensional character Arthur usually turns out to be in these stories, White made Arthur relatable by showing some of his experiences as an orphaned child, his feeling of conflict and inadequacy upon becoming king, and the pain of being betrayed by his best friend and his wife.

Characters shape our experiences with books by giving us a way to experience the ideas the author is writing about. When we identify with the characters, we begin to care what happens to them and then we internalize the ideas of the story. We respond as though we were a part of the story.

Book Review 1.2 – The Sacrifice Box – Book 8

What I Read:

The Sacrifice Box by Martin Stewart

368 pages / Horror / 5 out of 5 stars

How It Starts: Sep (short for September) and his other eleven-year-old friends find an ancient stone box on the Scottish island where they live. They feel compelled, even though they don’t know why, to put “sacrifices” in the box, things that are important to them that will bind them together as friends. Once they make their sacrifices, they hold hands and repeat “the rules,” rules that came to Sep almost as if they were part of a dream: Never come back to the box alone. Never Open it after dark. Never take back your sacrifice.

How It Gets Complicated: Four years later, Sep’s group of friends has drifted apart. Sep feels isolated and friendless and dreams of leaving the island for the Scottish mainland to go to school when he is approached by members of his old group of friends asking for his help. Creepy, inexplicable things have been happening to all of them, things related to the items they sacrificed in the box. It’s not long before they figure it out: somebody broke the rules. But who? No one in the group will admit to it. And until they do, they won’t be able to stop the increasingly creepy–and deadly–things happening on the island.

What I Liked: I thought this book was really well-written. It wasn’t that it had the greatest plot; the plot was actually pretty weak at times, but I really liked the author’s word choice and the way he described the action in the book, especially when things got chaotic. Some YA fiction writers have a tendency to over-explain because they underestimate the ability of their readers to draw inferences and follow the action. I felt like Martin Stewart did a good job of laying out just the essential details and then letting the readers fill in the gaps. I also feel like this book required quite a bit of suspension of disbelief. There were a lot of ridiculous things going on, but I was happy to accept them because of the quality of the writing.

What I Disliked: I felt like the plot got sloppier the further in to the book I read. I don’t know if the author was late on his publication deadline or if he was just sick of writing, but it seemed like not nearly as much care went into the structure and writing of the second half as the first.

Recommendation: This book takes place in the ’80s and has a definite Stranger Things vibe, so fans of Stranger Things will probably enjoy it. It also is clearly ripping off the Stranger Things font for the title. You can also tell that this author really likes Stephen King and there are a lot of things that remind me of It and Pet Sematary. 

Word Nerd 1.4 – Eldritch

Source: The Sacrifice Box, by Martin Stewart, page 342

Context: “The forest exploded in eldritch shrieks and green light as the Roxburgh-thing screamed–and they ran again, agony filling every part of Sep until it took him over completely and he didn’t know, couldn’t imagine, where it might end.”

In Their Words:

eldritch

adjective

el·​dritch | \ ˈel-drich  \

Definition of eldritch

strange or unnatural especially in a way that inspires fear WEIRDEERIE

In My Words: freaky and frightening; strange and weird; creepy

In Pictures:

Deep Thinker 1.2 – The Chewing of Reason Between Instinct’s Yellow Teeth

Source: The Sacrifice Box by Martin Stewart, page 87

Quote: “Back at his barracks the CO had given him new boots, a fresh canteen of water, and sent him straight back–along the same path, into the same ditch. And as he’d marched there, Roxburgh had understood what fear meant–not the jolt of a sudden noise, but real, primal fear–the chewing of reason between instinct’s yellow teeth.”

Context: An old groundskeeper, whose last name is Roxburgh, is out on the grounds in the evening while some freaky stuff is going on. He comes across the body of a crow that appears to be dead–showing a lot of bones and space in its rib cage–but when he gets close, it hops up and flies off. As he’s feeling a freaked out, he reflects back on experiences he had fighting in Malaysia during World War II, when he had experienced true fear.

This Makes Me Think: I picked this passage because I liked the way the author described fear. I’ve enjoyed a lot of this author’s writing and I think he has a knack for saying everyday things in fresh, interesting, and creative ways, and this is a great example. I thought it was cool that he compares and contrasts reason (the thought that it is probably nothing and I should just keep going) and instinct (the impulse to run away screaming at the first sign of danger) in the image of instinct as teeth chewing on reason. It’s just good writing.

 

Word Nerd 1.3 – New Romantics

Source: The Sacrifice Box by Martin Stewart, page 77

Context: “A carload of New Romantics rumbled past, their sleeves and music wafting through the hot breeze.”

In Their Words:

The New Romantic movement was a pop culture movement that originated in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s. The movement emerged from the nightclub scene in London and Birmingham at venues such as Billy’s and The Blitz.[1] The New Romantic movement was characterized by flamboyant, eccentric fashion inspired by fashion boutiques such as Kahn and Bell in Birmingham and PX in London.[2] Early adherents of the movement were often referred to by the press by such names as Blitz Kids, New Dandies and Romantic Rebels.[3][4]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Romantic

In My Words: A British music and fashion movement of the late ’70s and early ’80s in which everyone wore makeup and frilly shirts.

In Pictures:

Book Review 1.1 – Grendel’s Guide to Love and War – Book 7

What I Read: 

Grendel’s Guide to Love and War by A.E. Kaplan

320 pages / Young Adult Fiction / 3 out 5 stars

How It Starts: Tom Grendel lives in a retirement community. His father moved the family there because he is a military vet living with PTSD and needs a quiet neighborhood. Tom mows all the old ladies’ lawns and is working on a project where he interviews the residents of the neighborhood and creates transcripts of their conversations. His best friend, Ed, wants to be a vintner, or wine maker.

How It Gets Complicated: When one of the old ladies next door suffers a stroke and has to move into assisted living, her niece and the niece’s children move in. One of the children is Willow Rothgar, a girl that Tom has known for several years and kind of has a thing for. Her brother is Rex Rothgar, who Tom also knows and by whom Tom has been beaten up several times. Things get hairy when Rex and Willow’s mom leaves town for an extended work obligation and Rex begins throwing epic parties in the back yard every night, triggering Tom’s dad’s PTSD. Tom is determined to put an end to the parties and sets off a prank war with Rex, who calls in his cousin, Wolf Gates, for backup.

What I Liked: This book is loosely based on the Old English poem Beowulf, about a monster, Grendel,  who disrupts the parties of a group of Vikings, who then call in a Viking warrior, Beowulf, to put an end to the monster’s party pooping. It was fun to read a YA book that followed the plot structure of the Old English poem I studied in college. I thought the author’s use of the poem was very clever and fun to read.

What I Disliked: A lot of the action in the book was unbelievable. I like a book that requires a little suspension of disbelief, but this book doesn’t quite earn it. There are a million simple solutions to the problems in the book that are waived off with overly simple explanations and never brought up again. For instance, why don’t they just call the police to shut down the parties? The excuses for this solution are never really satisfying and make it hard to buy-in to the rest of the book.

Recommendation: I think just about anyone could enjoy this book. Knowing the story of Beowulf is really helpful, but you can enjoy this book even if you’re not familiar with Beowulf.

 

Word Nerd 1.2 – Redolent

Source: Grendel’s Guide to Love and War, by A.E. Kaplan, page 121.

Context: Ed grabbed the note out of the cup holder, where I’d shoved it. Willow was in the back, and the entire car was redolent of wet dog.

In Their Words:

Definition of redolent

1exuding fragrance AROMATIC
2 afull of a specified fragrance SCENTED air redolent of seaweed

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/redolent

In My Words: Totally smells like something or totally reminds people of something. Full of a sense of something.

In Pictures:

2095: What Will the Future Be Like?

In the year 2095, the world will be a happy, yet complicated place. The greatest medical surprise of the century will be that current thinking about dietary science is mistaken. Sugar isn’t actually as dangerous as we currently think, but in reality increases longevity. Therefore, all the sugar haters and soda alarmists will probably experience an early end while avid soda connoisseurs will live on. Hence, I will still be alive in the year 2095. Also, legs will be obsolete in the year 2095. This has to do with the effects diabetes will have on all the sugar drinkers (even though most of the purported effects of sugar will be proven to be non-lethal, diabetes is still very real). Because diabetes leads to poor circulation, which leads to problems with the extremities, like legs, all legs will be removed and replaced by rolling office chair bases. Because of this condition, the greatest threat to mankind’s happiness and well-being will be gravel. All gravel will be gathered up and dumped in the ocean, which will unfortunately exacerbate the effects that Global Warming is having on sea levels around the world. But if the water comes too close, we’ll just roll away on our office chair wheels.