3/26/18

The Stone Girl's Story, by Sarah Beth Durst

The Stone Girl's Story is Sarah Beth Durst's most recent middle grade fantasy (Clarion Books, April 3, 2018), and it's the one that I like best.  In order to say why I like it, I have to tell the whole plot, so if you like books I like, you could just read the next two paragraphs and the last two paragraphs and not have everything spoiled by the middle ones.  Or not.

It's the story of Mayka, a girl who has lived with her family of stone animals in the home up on a mountain her father made for them.  Her father was a master stone worker, carving into each creature glyphs that magically imbued the stone with the power to live, to fly (or swim, or run), and to love.  Mayka was his last work, and now her father is dead, she and her family have no one to refresh the carved marks that make them who they are.  Turtle has stopped moving, the stone fish no longer speak, and Mayka wonders who will be lost next....

Clearly a stonemason is needed.  So Mayka, who has never left home, sets off down the mountain to find one.  Accompanying her are two stone birds, one level headed, the other an imp of impulsive action.  And going with her as well are all the stories her father told her.

Down among flesh and blood people, Mayka learns that there were stories she'd never been told. The stories told by a small beautiful stone dragon who joins her and the two birds, about her life as a decoration with no purpose other than to be a possession. And darker stories of unscrupulous stonemasons who used their art for power and control, forcing stone creatures to obey their will.  And though since those days stonemasons have been themselves corralled and controlled, there is one man who wants to bring back that old power, in the name of progress and universal good.

But just because someone thinks they are doing what is right doesn't make it so.  Mayka is appalled to see marks of blind obedience carved onto stone creatures, cutting though the marks that tell their real stories.  And Mayka's own personal story, given to her by the glyphs her father her father carved on her, is that she is a person who can see stories and tell them....and so she begins to rewrite what they was done and carve stories of freedom.

I do so love stories about stories being reshaped and told and interpreted and lived!  In my mind this book is a parable about a girl who realizes that she herself is the master of her own life story, that she has the power to accept what her parents had to give her, and then shape her own story.  The fact that this point is made within the context of wonderful magic, beautifully described marvels of stone art, and flashes of humor from Mayka's companions makes it all the better.  The fact that her choices are made from a place of love and goodness of heart, and that one result is that she feels more secure in the knowledge her own father loved her, makes it more better still.

An excellent one for the elementary school reader who wants to read bigger books, as well as middle grade readers who aren't ready for full on gore or splashes of romantic love. Mayka is innocent and trusting (though much less na├»ve by the end of things), so the perfect reader is the kid who isn't a cynical smart aleck, but the one who is still a child themselves though they are in sixth grade. Some might find it a little slow to get going, but as the secrets of what is happening start unfolding, the tension builds nicely, and there's a climax of Adventure and Action, with destruction and violence, that only lasted long enough to be satisfactory with out being so long that I had to nervously read the end of the book to make sure things will be ok.  And with equal thought to my reading pleasure, the ending ties everything up very comfortably with lots of love.

So basically, I really really liked it.   And now I check Kirkus because it's fun to see if we are in agreement.....

and yes!  We have a winner!

Kirkus:  (starred review) "Thoughtful, colorful, strengthening, and understatedly tender."

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

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