So here it is. My long promised review of Summerland by Michael Chabon. I first read this book just after Mariam was first born and I was spending many a night sitting up with a wakeful babe and not a whole lot to do besides hold her and hope for a few hours of sleep. I went through an enormous stack of books in those first few weeks; among them this incredibly good story. I thought at the time that I would really love to read it to Mariam one day, and over the last few weeks, I have been doing just that.
Summerland falls into the sometimes strange category of "young adult" fiction, a genre that honestly, I usually avoid like the plague. I think I'm going to have to convince Mariam to jump straight from William Steig to William Shakespeare. However, I loved Summerland with my whole heart from the first chapter and I think it is a fine example of writing for older children. An epic hero's quest that utilizes many of the classic story elements of its predecessors, Summerland is the story of Ethan Feld, unlikely boy hero of the four worlds, chosen by the fairy people to save the universe from the trickster Coyote by means of a dangerous journey and a number of very serious games of baseball. Baseball, you see, is at the heart of Summerland. Love of the game, the lessons taught by it and the way that it can, when played well, restore joy, light and a good sense of fun to people (and various other creatures) needing all three.
Summerland is a complex and intricately woven tale. A hybrid of sports history, Native American lore and good, old-fashioned adventure tale, this book has a bit of everything. The reluctant hero finding his heart, his courage and ultimately his place. The trusty sidekick who turns out to be as true and valuable a friend as anyone ever had. The rag tag collection of traveling companions, each bringing a gift of some kind to the quest, ultimately ensuring it's success. A motley cast of characters ranging from wererats and giants to sasquatches and terrible monsters. Summerland is a story about faith, hope and the redemptive power of love, but it is also a stunningly good read with incredibly clever and surprising plot twists that keep you feeling as though you need to read just a few more pages. It is a story seamlessly pulled together from bits of many familiar myths and legends, almost addictive once you begin it. Many a night in the last two weeks Mariam and I have found ourselves awake far past bedtime, having read for over an hour without realizing so much time had passed.
Which brings me to some of the disclaimers that I should probably make. This book is, indeed, a long one. Five hundred pages, actually, which makes it a significant commitment read-aloud wise. And, although I read it to my six-year old, I think that it is really better suited to children closer to the age of 11 or above. I did a lot of editing as we were reading, particularly around scenes in the book that were very dramatic or where there was either implied or overt violence. A hero's epic does generally involve a battle or two, and this book is no exception. And, of course, you have to decide if your kiddos are game for five-hundred pages without pictures. Mariam has been known to sit and listen to her father read articles from The Economist, so that wasn't as much of a concern from our end as some of the more intense plot elements and possibly questionable language.
However, for any of you out there that are regularly reading aloud to your older children, I can't recommend this one enough. Summerland is an enchanting and thoroughly enjoyable book that reads as if you were actually entering another world altogether. You can easily be lost in the quest to save the Tree of Worlds, while also rescuing the game of baseball and the love of a son for his father. This is the best sort of adventure story; the kind that asks us to suspend disbelief and instead embrace the magic of fate, faith and the ability of eleven year-olds to save the universe.
This brings me to the fun part. I've got a copy of Summerland to giveaway. So, if you are interested in checking out this wonderful book, leave a comment here with the title and author of your favorite children's book. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on Thursday.