Thursday, April 22, 2010


North, Pearl. Libyrinth. New York: Tor Teen, 2009. Print
[Book cover credit:]

"And what about you, Censor?" she asked. "Where does the evil of literacy reside for you?"

Haly has always lived in the Libyrinth, surrounded by books and helping the Libyrarians, part of the Libyrinthian community. But Haly is different than everyone else in the Libyrinth. She can hear the books. They talk to her. She can't tell anyone because, well, they'll think she's nuts, but her ability to hear the written word enables Haly to uncover a plot that could destroy the entire Libyrinth. The willfully illiterate Eradicants, who assert their dominance every year at the sacrifice when they "free" words from the printed page by burning books, are looking for a "weapon" of legend, The Book of the Night, and it is up to Haly, along with her best friend Clauda and the Libyrarian Selene, to stop them.

Yearly book burnings! An Eradicant whose formal title is Censor! The destruction of a library so large it has been etymologically merged with a labyrinth! Aren't you mad? You're supposed to be. The whole premise of this book is set up assuming that we, the readers, will agree that the Libyrarians and their literate allies are right while the Eradicants, who are convinced that even viewing words on a page will blind them, are wrong. But we learn, right along with Haly who is captured by the Eradicants early on, that there are two side to every story. No one, no civilization, is all good or all bad, regardless of how they look to those on the outside. Much of our time with Haly is spent getting to know more about the Eradicant civilization and their interest in Haly. It is definitely tense and intense at times, but the real action is with those Haly left behind.

After Haly is captured, Clauda and Selene are left alone to save her and the Libyrinth. Their only connection, up to this point, is Haly. Clauda is a servant in the kitchen and Haly's best friend; they were children together. Haly is Selene's clerk, and Selene is the near the top of the Libyrinthian hierarchy (Oh, and a princess in her hometown, the only place still left outside of Eradicant control that can lend an army to defend the Libyrinth). She and Clauda practically come from two different worlds, even though they come from the same place. As they try to gather allies to the Libyrinth they uncover plot after plot and intrigue after intrigue. They have to learn to trust each other (because they can hardly trust anyone else) and work together.

Also, and this will be vague to avoid getting too spoiler-y, one of them is queer. There is ogling of hot female soldiers, there is thanking of Theselaides that they come from the Libyrinth where no one bats an eye at two girls or two guys together, and there is some major crushing that may or may not lead to lurv by the end of this story.*

And the books talk to Haly. They talk to her. She doesn't just hear a book start to finish; they offer useful quotes based on conversations in the room or what's going on in Haly's head. There are 10 pages of references for quotes that appear throughout the book. As someone who is constantly writing down and saving quotes from book of all kinds and who has always thought it would be both possible and amazing to tell a story using mostly quotes from other fictions (the soundtrack of a life, only books!), I find this unbelievably cool.

My only problem with Libyrinth is that it's the start of a trilogy. Now, I'm not freaking out because I Need to Know what happens; I'm upset because I don't. The ending was great and really satisfying. I really loved this book and I hope the sequels add to it rather than just dragging it out. Judging by the writing here, I'll also enjoy the next two books, even if I can't imagine where the story could possibly go from here.

Book source: Philly Free Library

*The best part? No one is or becomes friendless as a result of being queer. Our nameless lezzie is still good friends with Haly, among others, and her friends even know she likes girls! Maybe I've been reading the wrong YA (or any) books with lgbtq characters, but they all (save the Rainbow Boys) seem to be about a lone queer guy or girl who might have a friend of the opposite sex, who is possibly also queer, if they have any friends at all. Of my five most recent reviews, not including this one, with an lgbtq tag (Scars, The Midnight Guardian, What Happened to Lani Garver, M+O 4EVR, The Sweet Far Thing) only the last features a queer character with more than one close friend. The queer character in Libyrinth does not have a vast circle of friends that we get to know over the course of the story, but it is clear that if she weren't on the run for so much of the book, she would be surrounded by them. It is great to see a story about a queer character who has friends, multiple, and some of the same sex. And her friend aren't even all also queer! 
If I'm way off base here, and I truly hope that I am, please point me to lgbtq YA books that feature queer kids with friends of both sexes (or varying gender presentation) and/or varying sexualities!


Charlotte said...

I'm looking forward to the second book too!

Yeah, I really liked how unproblomatic and unexraordinary same sex relationships are in that particular culture! And I loved how Haly is shown on the cover as a being a person of color, but again, her skin color is not an Issue--I don't know if it's even mentioned in the book itself.

MissAttitude said...

I'm so eager to read this book! i need to review more sci fi/fantasy and this book is near the top of my list. It sounds so interesting and your review has made me curious to find out why the books are being banned. The act is so horrible, I can hardly believe there is a justifable reason but that's what authors do, turn our preconceived notions on their heads :)

Wow I can't think of any YA books with GLBt characters who have lots of friends. Oh, maybe My Invented Life. I haven't read it yet, but I think the sister of the main character is lesbian and quite popular. But I could be wrong.

And I'm with Charlotte, I love that a POC is on the cover :) I also love that there is a little creature resting on her and the pages from books swilring around. A cool cover.

Lawral the Librarian said...

Charlotte - I don't think what Haly looks like is ever really talked about in the text, which is why I was wary about using this book for the POC Challenge as well. I didn't want to go just on the cover. Since you and MissAttitude both pointed it out without any mention in what I wrote, I'll probably post this review there as well. :)

MissAttitude - When I was writing my little footnote, I also thought of My Invented Life. I haven't read it yet either, and can't really even remember what it's supposed to be about, but I too have the impression that it has a popular queer character in it. I guess that should be one of the next books I pick up at the library, huh?

MissAttitude said...

Pick it up and let me know what you think! Also, I think there is a POC in it but I'm not sure...

Lawral the Librarian said...

Miss Attitude -

I will, for sure. It's on my holds list at the library, so hopefully I'll be able to read it soon...