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Why does nostalgia have such authority over us?
I was recently talking to a friend about nostalgia; about how we will gleefully cram junk food into our gullets or delight over terrible movies and toys that break apart in our oafish hands that are no longer sized for play. All because these things, often shoddy and undeserving of our deep affection, ignite our nostalgia.
It is a potent balm, nostalgia. It brings us back to those times when we were innocent of the vast heartbreak that life often offers; when the sun seemed always to shine, and when we could feel the boundlessness of love, as palpable as a hand on our forehead when we were sick or a hug on the playground.
A lot of things make me nostalgic. Nothing quite so much as books. I still have my favorite books as a child, tucked away in boxes; a few still on display on a bookshelf at my mom’s house; even fewer on display in my own bookshelf. When I sometimes pick up these books to re-read them, I feel their brilliance before I even peel open their much-abused covers. I still love reading, and delight in it, but when I was a child, reading was a portal to another dimension. Reading the books I loved as a child now is more like a time machine; it takes me back to the place where reading was a form of transportation. And that is wonderful.
One common phenomenon of nostalgia that I typically bypass when it comes to books, however, is the shoddy-quality aspect. From the toys to the movies to the foods I loved as a child, most tokens that cause me to feel nostalgic are pretty much junk from a non-emotional standpoint (oh but how could Tamagotchies ever be called junk). The books I loved as a child, with few exceptions, however, tend to still be quite good reads.
This weeks’ feature book was one of my favorites as a child, and one which I still recommend now as (and to) an adult: Shade’s Children by Garth Nix.
Book of the Weeks: 4/24-5/7/2017: Shade’s Children
by Garth Nix
You may recognize the name Garth Nix from the “Old Kingdom” book series, which was a collection of fantasy books mostly centering around a young, heroic necromancer named Sabriel. I loved those books as a kid as well, and everything by Nix; he was one my favorite authors as a burgeoning young adult, but Shade’s Children was always my favorite.
Shade’s Children is a dark SF dystopia which takes place in a world devoid of adults. Grotesque organic robots composed from the brains and body parts of teenagers roam the planet, engaging in a violent and never-ending territory-game.
The world of Shade’s Children is described as our own world in the not-so-distant future after a mysterious change has taken place. None of the surviving children know why or how everyone over the age of fourteen suddenly disappeared. Raised in jails by the minions of the new-world overlords, the kids know only that they have only to look forward to their “Sad Birthdays,” when they turn fourteen and will be carted away to disappear into an unknown, and assumed horrific, future. But some of these kids are bestowed with “gifts;” mild psychic abilities which allow them to escape their confines. When they do, the ruinous world into which they find themselves is not much better than their jails. Often, they are re-captured or die. The ones who survive are the ones who take refuge in a hidden bunker run by “Shade,” the only surviving adult on the planet, who is actually only an uploaded consciousness.
Shade’s Children is unique, creative, and impossible to put down. It definitely appeals to those with dark sensibilities and a taste for post-apocalyptic fiction. I’m surprised it hasn’t been made into a film yet, especially with the surge of popularity that Sci-Fi has received in film recently. I am also happy though, because it has been my secret (well, not anymore) fantasy to be the screenwriter for the film version of Shade’s Children. Maybe that’s my destiny….(producers? anyone?)
I was an advanced reader, so my mom pretty much just let me pick what I wanted with little censorship. I mostly think that’s awesome; I am not a fan of censorship. I stumbled across Shade’s Children when I was something like 10 though, and while I don’t think it did any lasting damage (or if it did, it wasn’t anything I mind; I like that I like dark, disturbing images and stories), I probably won’t be handing it off to my own kids until they are at least young teens.
Besides the theme of dismembered teenagers being used to build players for these war games, there are some other rather “adult” themes that a 10 year old probably isn’t quite equipped to read, such as the “sex lottery” which Shade’s children (what he calls the kids he shelters) engage in because they are, afterall, all over fourteen and going through all those fun hormonal changes while fighting for their lives.
There are also some complex themes that I didn’t fully engage with until I re-read this as an adult. Shade’s Children grapples with the ideas of trauma, human trafficking, bodily autonomy, and the complexities (and potential abuses) which occur within adult-child relationships. All this reflects one of my favorite aspects of speculative fiction; SF is able to bring readers in conversation with poignant real-world themes that may be otherwise overlooked.
Though, I will say, there was something quite adventurous and unique about reading this at an age when I was still approaching my “Sad birthday.”
I recommend Shade’s Children to people 13+ who enjoy sci-fi and dystopias, and who have a stomach for the bizarre and even sometimes grotesque. Also anyone who loves really creative storylines!
Buy it here, buy it now!
Have you read Shade’s Children? How old were you when you read it, and what did you think?
Have any suggestions for future “Book of the Weeks?” I’d love to hear them!
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ALSO! Later today, Monday the 24th, I am going to be sending out my FIRST EVER monthly newsletter. There’s some really good stuff in there about mental health awareness, sexual assault awareness…some poetry…and even a bit more from Maria, the brave amazing mama with PPD who I featured last week. There’s only one catch! You have to be an E-MAIL Subscriber. Sorry WordPress followers and silent lurkers, this is only going out to the e-mail subscribers. So please, hurry, sign up and get the newsletter! I’ll make it easy for you, you can do it right here! Viola!
Til next time!