I finally polished off the novel Badger gave me, A Fistful of Sky. I enjoyed it thoroughly, have passed it to a delighted Iz, and recommend it with many exclamation points. (!!!!!!!)
The cover art and blurbs are silly and misleading, so ignore them -- this is not a book about an ugly duckling who transcends her misfit ways, so let's pause for a nose-thumb to crappy and insulting stereotypes. Rather, it's about a confident young woman, Gypsum, who is happy with her non-mainstream appearance despite the disapproval of her conventionally beautiful, trim, stylish mother and her (literally) charming ways. Gypsum's struggle has little to do with her outward self, but instead concerns her status as the only non-magical kid among five siblings.
I love the book's exploration of style and girlyness and body size through unpredictable magicks, and the way those factors are handled with humor and empathy, yet with few judgments and certainly no concessions to the what the author calls "girl torture." There are a couple of elements some parents may object to; in one scene Gympum sees two two people "going at it" behind some bushes, and there is also a mention of rape, but neither of these are explicit enough to deem it unsuitable for Iz's sixth grade peers, at least in my opinion.
I have to write, I am totally freaked out by how many similar themes run through A Fistful of Sky and my own unfinished story manuscript. (I usually wouldn't mention anything I was working on unless it was in a state worth mentioning, but feel I should record my freaked-outedness now -- because if I ever do finish my story, I don't want Nina Kiriki Hoffman to sue me.) So many eerie parallels with regards to how magical families might live amongst the rest of us in contemporary California, the traditions and rules such families might uphold, and the importance of training one's kids in potential post-apocalyptic community survival skills. Too weird. But so beautifully told. If I produce something even half as creative and moving, I'll be content.