Thursday, March 04, 2010

Raven Stole the Moon, by Garth Stein

I think it's par for the course that many bloggers fall into a rut at some point or another. It's not to be confused with a slump, but in the case of the rut we get used to reading certain "types" of books or perhaps we find a genre we decide is not for us.

I'm as guilty as any other reader, but I made a decision, when contacted about the review opportunity to step outside my comfort zone. In all honesty, I wasn't sure it would be a positive review after I read the blurb, but it all worked out just fine.

Raven Stole the Moon is a re-issue of Garth Stein's first novel. Many of you are probably already familiar with first big success, The Art of Racing in the Rain. I distinctly remember passing that book over when it made the reviewy rounds because I generally don't do books that have anything major to do with dogs (it's a quirk!), and given all the good reviews, I was a little sad that I did pass it over. I didn't want to make the same mistake with Raven Stole the Moon, so I took the plunge.

This novel is about a well-to-do couple from Seatte--Robert and Jenna--who lose their son to drowning two years prior to the novel's action on a vacation to the Thunder Bay resort in Alaska. Jenna happens to have family and Native American ties to that area of Alaska, as her grandmother was a member of the Tlingit people. After a particularly upsetting situation with Robert, Jenna takes off to Alaska on her own and strange things begin to happen to her. She investigates her grandmother's ramshackle house, adopts an odd dog she meets in the woods, and ends up boarding with a local fisherman. All is not well as whisperings of Tlingit legend enter the picture. Specifically, Jenna begins to learn about the kushtaka--Native American spirits who steal souls. By joining forces with a Tlingit shaman, Jenna begins to unravel the mystery of her son's drowning, and hers is a harrowing journey into the unknown.

There is a definite supernatural element to this novel that I wasn't fully expecting when I accepted it for review. I supposed I expected a sprinkling of Native American legend, but the mythology and the kushtaka story are integral to the plot. It is a testament to Stein's writing that I was able to easily sink into the story and accept the role of these mythological soul stealers with few problems. Native American legend hasn't captivated me the way some other mythologies have through the years, so I was surprised at how interested I became and how much I enjoyed that aspect of the novel. The supernatural elements were thrilling and kept me flipping pages.

More importantly, the characters were well drawn. Given, there were times that I found some of Stein's dialogue slightly less than believable, but that was mostly on the part of the husband, Robert, who I didn't really like too much in the first place. Jenna's sections, as well as those relating to David Livingstone, the Tlingit Shaman, were excellent, and I enjoyed those characters more than most any characters I've read in a novel in the last year or so. Jenna is damaged not only by the loss of her son, but also by the deterioration of her marriage ever since. As a new mom-to-be, I already can't imagine losing a child, and I can only imagine the toll it could take on one's marriage if both partners aren't willing to share and work together to get through it.

As I've mentioned here before, I've had a really hard time reading contemporary novels as of late. I only read ONE last year (hard to believe), and I've been doing better this year. Raven Stole the Moon is by far the most involving novel I've read in a very long time--since the one I read last year, The Thirteenth Tale. The novels are nothing alike in premise, but they both had excellent pacing which kept me involved throughout, and that seems to be the key ingredient to a great novel reading experience for me nowadays.

I noticed on Garth Stein's homepage, a blurb from The Washington Post about Raven Stole the Moon. It describes the novel as, "deeply moving, superbly crafted and highly unconventional..." I couldn't agree more. "Unconventional" is probably the first descriptor that comes to mind when I think of Raven Stole the Moon, and it's wonderfully unconventional, at that.

If you're up for an involving read and this one sounds like a book squarely outside your usual preferences, give it a try anyway! Maybe you'll be as entertained as I was. If you'd like to find out, enter my Raven Stole the Moon giveaway!

Book Giveaway:

Enter to win a pristine new copy of Raven Stole the Moon. Simply comment below expressing your interest, and I'll draw the winner on March 9th!

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