Cross-Blog Pollination: Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

Monday, April 15, 2013

Regular readers of this blog will know that I also write a blog devoted entirely to children's and young adult literature.  As a literacy coach, it is part of my job to keep up with the best in literature for young people, so that I can guide students and teachers in the right direction when it comes to what to read.

Occasionally one of the young adult books I read seems like it would also be enjoyable for adults, and when that happens, we get cross-blog pollination!  I think that adult readers who deny the enjoyability and relative value of books written for children and youth are denying themselves some very pleasant reading experiences-experiences that just might help them understand the world of children and youth, and the way that children and youth see the world.

This particular cross-pollination comes in the form of a fantasy novel called Graceling, written by Kristin Cashore.  Graceling tells the story of Katsa, a young woman born with a remarkable gift.  She has a Grace-a special ability that is innate, and that sets her apart from other people.  And Katsa's Grace requires her to keep people even more at a distance than usual, for her Grace is killing.  Her uncle, the King of Middluns, uses her to bully and threaten people who oppose him, and to get his way with the other kingdoms.  Katsa hates being his slave, but she considers herself to dangerous and flawed to do anything else.  That is, until she meets Prince Po of Leinid, another Graceling who is gifted with fighting ability.  His grandfather has been kidnapped, and Katsa is part of a team that rescued him from his captors. But even after he is safe, the question remains-why would someone kidnap an old man, even if he is related to the King of Leinid.  Katsa and Po will travel across the seven kingdoms to discover what nefarious plot is afoot, and along the way Katsa learns new things about herself, her Grace, and her ability to choose her own path.

Despite the fact that the "seven kingdoms" of Katsa's world immediately make me think of A Song of Ice and Fire, Cashore has created a fantasy world that is all her own.  The story moves at a good pace, and the emotions of the characters and the events as they unfold feel authentic within the mythology of the fictional seven kingdoms.  And there are some big questions addressed by the story-the nature of violence and freedom, the use of torture, naked power wielded cruelly, exclusion, the responsibility to use our "power" ethically, and the right to self-determination.  But what makes this a book I couldn't put down was Katsa's strength, determination, and unwillingness to be used as anyone's pawn.  Katsa is a hero, not in spite of being female, or because of being female...she is entirely her own person, operating almost completely outside of any gender roles.  There is a love story hidden within the action, but it is not what drives  the story; rather, the love story enhances the emotional impact of the true task of the characters-to save a princess, and in doing so their entire society, from an evil king bent on world domination.  This is a book that I will give to my daughter, and to the young teens I work with as a youth advisor, because Katsa is an example of a heroine that we can look up to, even when we may not agree with her every decision.  Because despite the violence of Katsa's Grace, what we see in her is the struggle all of us engage in every day to act in as moral a way as possible, even when people and events seem to conspire against us.

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