Monday, September 10, 2012

The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis

A good girl.
A bad boy.
A fairy tale that’s true.
A truth that is no fairytale.

The book’s teaser almost smacks of teen cliché, maybe mixed with fantasy and magic, probably even a bit dark if the story takes a Grimm approach to fairy tales. Almost is what sets this book apart from the usual angsty teen romance melodrama.

The story starts with a typical girl-meets-boy scenario, except for the mysterious dead body as a warning that this story is not going in that direction: Anna is a model student with good grades and a bright future ahead of her. Abel is the school’s resident drug dealer, the kind of person that is bad news and is best to avoid. Anna discovers there is more to Abel when she finds his sister’s doll. Despite his warnings (and everyone else’s), she becomes fascinated with Abel. He takes care of his adorable little sister, Micha, while their mother is missing under suspicious circumstances. Anna is drawn to the fairy tale story he tells Micha about a little queen with a diamond heart who is protected by a sea lion and pursued by mysterious hunters after her heart. Abel adds more to the story each time he tells it, and Anna finds the story getting darker and more dangerous with ominous parallels to the real world and its chain of disturbing events.

This novel is dark, suspense-driven, and, despite fairy tale references, it plays by the rules of the real world. It is very much a teen story with its concerns of falling in love, dreams and hopes for the future, and trying to do the right thing. However, it pulls little back with its punches, dealing with the difficult topics of violence, murder, abuse and rape, troubled family life, and teen use of drugs and alcohol and sexuality, making it a tough read to stomach but all the more necessary for its unflinching refusal to be a feel-good escapist romance. There is no magic, except the magic of storytelling and the magic of love to inspire, to motivate, and to bring hope. The contrast of light and darkness brings greater vibrancy and depth to the story. That is the magic in Michaelis’ writing, translating well from German. Even with her more obviously fantasy-oriented works, the human element overshadows the magical. She weaves together storytelling, magic, reality, ugliness, and beauty. With Tiger Moon and Dragons of Darkness (see review), fantasy turns out to be more realistic, while The Storyteller is firmly set in the real world, but that reality has something magical to it.

Look for The Storyteller on the VBPL Catalog. For more teen books that do not shy from difficult subjects, try Jackie Morse Kessler’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse series starting with book 1, Hunger, which deals with anorexia, Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why handles suicide, and Lauren Myracle’s Shine focuses on hate crime.

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