Monday, November 14, 2011

Open Wounds - Under the Microscope


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Open Wounds is a YA novel. Yes, I know, I read a YA novel. Miracles never cease.

This one, though, is a little different than most of the ones I see on the bookstore shelves. This is a gritty historical novel set in WWII-era New York, about a boy, Cid Wyman, scrapping for life in a harsh neighbourhood of Queens. His mother is dead, his father abandons him, and he's left with his grandmother - his only release is the occasional chance to watch a movie on the silver screen, the sort of swashbuckling adventure that pulls him into a life utterly unlike his own. When his grandmother dies, he lives in an orphanage until, years later, a distant relative takes him in. This is Lefty, a crippled veteran of WWI who had once loved Cid's mother. Lefty teaches Cid how to fence, and how to teach fencing for the stage. Cid feels he has found a place for himself doing just this, but even a boy can have dangerous enemies.

This is a story of growing up, of old parents lost and new ones found. It's beautifully written, gritty, and not fo the YA-faint-of-heart. From childhood battles on the streets to fencing duels as a young man, this story has action and beautiful pacing - but what makes it great is its unsentimental poignancy, the truth of Cid's struggles, and his complex relationship with Lefty - savior, of a sort, though a difficult one (and a wonderfully realized character). This story is also about class and the clash of worlds, about how the stories of the grand world beyond have an impact on even the most distant lives.

I think great historical novels have this wonderful nested quality. It's not that they're simply about a historical event, but rather they are about lives that have been carefully nested within a series of historical events. These events are simply a part of the world the characters live in, like the weather or the daily traffic. The story reveals, and is revealed by, these events, and always, beyond that, there is the value of a life truly lived.

12 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Certainly doesn't sound like your typical young adult book.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Nice to see that there are some YA books which do not feature sparkly vampires at all. Thanks for sharing!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Awesome! That you're reading YA and that it has FENCING!! (Did you know that two of my boys are fencers?) I'll put this on the Xmas list for my oldest. :) #thanks

Matthew MacNish said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this. I'm sending Joe over.

And I see you've got the Ness novel. That one just showed up at my house, and I'll be getting into it soon.

D.G. Hudson said...

It's a good idea to sometimes read outside our comfort choices.

This book has an inviting cover (translate=interesting) and dystopian-type tales can attract me. They seem to highlight the strength of the puny human in the face of overwhelming odds.

Thanks for the review, Bryan.

Bryan Russell said...

@ Susan

As someone who came out of the womb in love with sword fights, I have to say that the fencing in this book is awesome.

Bryan Russell said...

@ Matt

A Monster Calls is pretty damn good so far.

Bryan Russell said...

@ Alex and Jeffrey

I'm so poorly educated in YA that I'm not even sure what's typical. But there are no sparkly vampires in it.

Bryan Russell said...

@ DG

I like reading unusual things. I seem to learn more that way...

Marsha Sigman said...

AHHHH...we have brought over another to our side...

NOT all YA is sparkly vampires or giggling teenagers. If it was I wouldn't be reading or writing it.

Just about to crack open A Monster Calls! It sits on my bookshelf taunting me as I burn dinner.

Joe said...

Thanks, Bryan for the wonderful review. I'm glad you enjoyed the book. The YA title is good for marketing in some ways but not in others. I wrote this for adults and ended up marketing it for YAs as I think others do because of the young protagonist. A whole world opened up to me as a writer that I had been investigating for years as a reader. All the best,
Joe

Bryan Russell said...

Joe,

No problem, it was a great read. Happy to spread the word!