In time for the holidays, Reads beat writers Katherine Silk, Claire Francis and Shana Hadi discuss several recommendations for winter break.
Katherine Silk, Contributing Writer
“Airborn” by Kenneth Oppel: If you’re looking for a fun, adventurous story to enrapture you over winter break, I’d joyfully recommend “Airborn.” The novel is set in an alternate past, narrated from the point of view of Matt Cruse, a teenage cabin boy aboard a luxury airship. The story follows Matt as he meets the brilliant, beautiful, brazen Kate de Vries, a passenger aboard his airship, and recounts their adventures together.
I enjoy both the plot and the main characters in the story. When I first read the book, I was pleasantly surprised at how the action never stopped. Between being attacked by pirates, discovering a new species of animal and saving the passengers aboard the airship, Matt and Kate keep moving.
The characters are also deep. Matt’s life is not easy; his father died when he was young, and he is now the breadwinner for his family. He has romantic feelings for Kate, but their differences in class separate them. He merits promotion, but the son of the wealthy airship-line owner is given the job instead. Yet, Matt remains confident and optimistic throughout the novel. The story deals with complex themes while simultaneously retaining its lighthearted, adventuresome quality.
I’d gladly recommend “Airborn” to anyone looking for a fast-paced, entertaining novel to read over break!
Claire Francis, Staff Writer
“The Star of Kazan” by Eva Ibbotson: Ibbotson’s 1999 (children’s? kinda?) novel “The Star of Kazan” is one of my most self-indulgent morsels of genre fiction, wrapped in the timeless plot of a pure-of-heart orphan who, after years of listlessness and longing, ultimately forges both her own family and her own identity. Set against the glittering lamplight of 1908 Vienna, the story of our spunky protagonist Annika involves whimsical professors, unexpected inheritances, derelict palaces and the crimes of heartless con artists. At least partially responsible for my childhood fascination with Vienna, “The Star of Kazan” meshes folktale and familiarity, synthesizing the universalities of tropes like the long-lost daughter and the allure of wealth with the specificities of the historical period and the character of the city. Peppered with the sensory satisfaction of Ibbotson’s descriptions of traditional Austrian dishes and the curious, curling language of an author who is deeply comfortable with her craft, “The Star of Kazan” is a tight, transformative work. It invents a universe unto itself, one studded by well-defined characters and infused with a romantic, brittle-yet-unbreakable sensibility reminiscent of the holiday season. Child or adult, “The Star of Kazan” is memorable, lovable and un-put-down-able.
Shana Hadi, Desk Editor
“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky: This short story strikingly establishes a connection between gangly dinosaur movements and tender romantic feelings, and it reads smoothly like poetry that flows off the page even as it evokes images of less graceful notions. The narrator speaks of her paleontologist fiancé as if he were a dinosaur, noting how she would still sing him lullabies and wish the best for him, even if he had to marry another creature more like himself. However, what first starts off as a deeply moving expression of love soon melds into a poignant tale. The narrator reveals this story is an idle product of her imagination while she waits by the side of her fiancé who may never wake up again after a hate crime. Swirsky’s beautiful language extends the metaphor to capture the intricacies of their relationship, contrasting the austerity of the narrator’s grief with the lightness of her fervent hopes. While the narrator’s story is fantasy (in several interpretations of the word), it doesn’t make her emotions any less real, the tragedy any less sorrowful.
“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” reminds us to show and share our love while we still can, and even if we do not see the world through poetic dinosaur metaphors, any expression of affection suffices when compared to the alternative of silence.
Contact Katherine Silk at ksilk ‘at’ stanford.edu, Claire Francis at claire97 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Shana Hadi at shanaeh ‘at’ stanford.edu.