Friday, August 19, 2016

East by Edith Pattou

Reviewed by Ambrea

In East, Edith Pattou tells the story of Rose, the youngest of seven children—and substitute child for the daughter who didn’t survive.  A misfit even amongst her closest family, Rose has never really fit in anywhere.  She’s different, out of place, but when an enormous white bear suddenly appears and asks her to leave in exchange for health and prosperity for her impoverished family.  Faced with the health and happiness of her family, Rose readily agrees.  But as she travels to distant shores upon the back of the white bear, she quickly discovers nothing is as it seems—and she’s soon in for the greatest adventure of her life.

East is a curious story that pulls directly from the Norwegian fairy tale, “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” but it appears to draw on everything from history, Beauty and the Beast, Greek mythology, and much more.  It’s intriguing and fascinating and strangely beautiful, and I enjoyed it immensely.  Truthfully, it’s quickly become one of my favorite books for young readers.

I loved the imagery in East, especially when Rose weaves her stories.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked reading Neddy’s and her father’s narratives, because both Neddy and her father offer insight into Rose’s personality as a child and give perspective to her unexpected journey.  They are an anchor that helps tether her wild adventure to the real world, keeping a line between their world and the magical world of the north.  However, I enjoyed Rose’s narrative best because she has a way of looking at the world that impressed upon me the beauty of the far north, a way of chronicling sensations and thoughts that allowed me to better envision her adventure.

Rose loved to see the world, and she loved beautiful things in nature.  She knew how to capture and convey their appearance, their subtle ferocity and their ethereal beauty, but she also knew how to describe the terrible chill of the snow and the cutting sharpness of ice, which I absolutely loved.  She weaves a beautiful story, literally and figuratively.  Rose creates beautiful works of art in the cloth she makes, the tapestries she weaves, and she has a similar talent for stringing together words to create a narrative that’s both evocative and fascinating.

I loved it.

Additionally, I loved the originality of East.  I realize it pulls directly from “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” but Pattou manages to give the story an added depth by crafting complex characters and expanding upon the goblin myth.  Moreover, I liked that she pulled from all sorts of European myths, drawing out aspects of Beauty and the Beast (a French fairy tale, originally) and the story of Cupid and Psyche.  It was interesting to see all these difference influences come together to create a story that’s both compelling and enchanting, a novel that conveys a sense of history and myth—and, of course, magic.

Strangely enough, I also liked the pacing of East.  Pattou manages to convey a sense of elapsing time, making Rose’s adventure epic in scope.  Many months pass as Rose sets out with the White Bear, and many more months pass as she journeys to a place “east of the sun, west of the moon” to free him from the clutches of the wicked Troll Queen.  It makes for a long book, but, at least, the pacing is spot on.  The narrative has a natural progression that takes the readers on a wonderful journey from the French countryside to the coldest, most pristine reaches of the far north.

And I enjoyed every minute.

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