This is what's wrong with me. This is what's very very WROOONNG with me - and that was Bill Murray in Stripes in case you missed the reference ("We're ten and one!") (Not anymore, brother).
I have been neglecting the crap out of Pink Me for MONTHS because I've started reviewing for Booklist Online and those guys send me I swear 5 books a month. And not five 32-page picture books, although sometimes yeah I get picture books. No. I get five NOVELS. Five middle-grade books about burping and zombie pets. Five YA sci-fi barnburners. Shit involving fairies.
And some decent stuff, for sure.
Plus I've been neglecting Pink Me because I am churning through as much YA horror as I can stomach. Funny horror, ghostie horror, horror that turns out to not be terribly scary after all. Lotsa horror. I'm doing this because my colleague Paula and I are giving a talk, called "Something Wicked This Way Comes of Age" (Paula's title and is that good or what?!), at the YA Lit Symposium in Austin next fall.
I didn't need those boots. Nobody needs $600 boots.
There's this other thing that's been taking up a buttload of time - I'm moderating a panel of author/illustrators at School Library Journal's Day of Dialog in New York at the end of the month. But you can't come to that because it is SOLD OUT. Have you ever heard of such a thing? A one-day children's lit librarian thing that SELLS OUT every year on the first day. Like it's Fleetwood Mac or something. You are the poet in my heart, baby.
None of this is what's wrong with me. It is not wrong to binge-read Chris Raschka or Lois Ehlert. Nor is it wrong to read five YA horror novels every week - and I'm not kidding, look at my Goodreads, it's sick.
No. What's wrong with me is that I read the life-alteringly charming picture book Beekle, written and illustrated by everyone's favorite trailermaker Dan Santat, about an imaginary friend who sets off to find his real friend - and I also read The Lonely, a supremely fucked-up festival of mental illness and unreliability, which features a domineering, manipulative imaginary friend - and I thought, "DOUBLE UP, BABY - CAGE MATCH REVIEW TIME."
Which - that doesn't even mean anything.
Let's start with Beekle. And maybe we'll have to end with Beekle too, just to be sure we'll be able to sleep tonight.
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, by Dan Santat
What is Beekle about? Optimism, positivity, taking action, facing fears, venturing into the unknown.
In other words, it is everything you want in a book for children. Or - everything you want as long as what you also want is charm and gorgeousness and soul. Beekle is a marshmallowy little fella who lives on an island of imaginary friends. One by one, the other creatures get imagined and are whisked away, but Beekle remains. He is not sad, though - he imagines that his friend, his somewhere-out-there friend, is busy playing ball or making paper hats and just hasn't had time to imagine Beekle yet.
So he leaves the island and goes looking for his friend himself, kind of a reverse Where the Wild Things Are strategy.
Beekle finds the real world strangely colorless and muffled - the way we all feel when our surroundings are unfamiliar and overwhelming. But he perseveres. The page on which Beekle climbs down from a tree to return a little girl's drawing to her, and we see that she has drawn Beekle sitting in the tree - Beekle, who has of course been invisible to all the other humans in the book - is perfect. It captures the moment of recognition between two people, the moment when you realize, "Oh, I see! You and I will know each other for many years."
I wanted to show that picture of Beekle in the tree, but my branch library's copy is checked out (of course). Roll the trailer:
Beekle feels like Dan Santat opening up his grown-up boy heart, his dad heart, his maybe-a-little-bit-misunderstood artist heart (he was supposed to be a doctor after all) and pulling out the pale little blobby wad of resolve and courage that has kept him company as he has made his way.
We should all have a Beekle.
The Lonely by Ainslie Hogarth
We should all probably NOT have a Julia.
Julia is the red-haired troublemaker older sister of Easter, who, as Ainslie Hogarth's debut novel begins, is lying beneath an immense boulder in the woods, her legs crushed from the thighs down, bleeding to death.
Easter is a bit pissed to be lying on the forest floor bleeding to death. She's unnerved by the idea of being eaten by insects before she is fully dead - the kind of morbid ideation, by the way, to which Easter is prone. On the other hand she also finds lying beneath a giant rock bleeding to death to be curiously restful in its finality. The pain is negligible, the woods are quiet. She smokes a cigarette and takes time to reflect.
The events of Easter and Julia's life together comes out in dribs and drabs as Easter seeps into the dirt and fallen leaves. The Mother, brittle and powdered and desperate; The Father, playing clarinet in the basement; and one undeniable bitch of a grandmother. Easter recalls the hijinks the girls have gotten up to, most of them Julia's ideas - they play under the dining room table, drawing a mural on the underside; they dribble bleach on the neighbors' yards, killing the grass in the shape of big hairy dicks. They pretend suicide, drawing on their wrists and necks with The Mother's bright red lipstick. There's an event with matches. Julia dies - multiple times, often horribly.
We figure out pretty quickly that Julia isn't real. There are a number of other things that we don't figure out for a good long time. It's quite delicious, in a multiple maniacs kind of way.
I'd say that one of the best reasons for employing an unreliable narrator is to attempt to duplicate the unreliable sensorium of a crazy person. We don't know what in Easter's life is real - I have major suspicions about the lice-infested albino boy that Easter likes, and the museum of miniature dioramas where she works - and what she has built for herself.
The truth, or what we can decipher of the truth, is tragic and really funny and full of the mesmerizing, fully-realized wacko details that people sometimes concoct in their heads and then rattle off to unsuspecting library personnel. For example, did you know cats could be allergic to broccoli? I've got a lady who has written to the Surgeon General about it. Multiple times.
I requested The Lonely on Edelweiss because of that cover, which is perfect. It is lonely, but it is also unsettling. And subversive - it takes a number of recent covers that feature trees silhouetted against sky and STICKS A SQUIRREL HEAD on them.
So yeah, it's funny. Ainslie Hogarth's next book will be called Boy Eats Girl and hell yes I'm going to read it! But I'll also read the next book by Dan Santat because come on - you know it'll be cute.