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Lily Paperback – October 1, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up-Thirteen-year-old Lily is an unlikely pawn in this story that is part morality play and part fairy tale. When Lily has a vision of her father's death and later learns that his death has in fact come true, she feels a power inside. Lily and her mother leave their village for a large city where Lily is taken in by her worldly surroundings: the hustle and bustle of the streets, the raucous crowds, and garish lights. Swept up by the excitement in the air and pushed along by the maelstrom of people around her, the teen goes to see a traveling preacher. People in the streets say that Reverend Everyman is a healer, a prophet, a man of God. The reverend's traveling circus is more carnival than prayer meeting. Clowns with prison records and sketchy pasts enforce Everyman's will, and a tattooed girl is displayed in a cage and said to be possessed. Lily becomes part of the traveling show and naively believes the preacher will fix her curse, but he has his own insidious ideas. A classic struggle of good vs. evil pits witch Baba Yaga against the evil evangelist Everyman. A muddled, esoteric plot makes this a read for a narrow audience. The illustrations by Andersen, while provocative and artistic, are disturbing and otherworldly. VERDICT Large high school collections with generous budgets may choose to purchase. This novel is a better fit for a public library collection for mature teens.-Pamela Thompson, Col. John O. Ensor Middle School, El Paso, TX
''As Andersen has done for the book's beautifully bizarre yet detailed illustrations, Ford has filled his novel with customs and side stories some no more than a sentence or two that make the world feel real, wonderful, and horrifying simultaneously...this novel is at heart a fairy tale in the grand, dark tradition of the best of such stories; the book speaks to the reader's deepest fears and highest hopes, told through the odyssey of a girl who is scared by what is happening around her and within her.''` --Kirkus Reviews
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As much as I always enjoy reading Ford, I was also quite taken with Staven Andersen's black and white illustrations. They felt both very medieval and contemporary-horror, with their exaggerated body shapes reflecting sins and graces in the tale. The combination provides a rich and frightening read.
Ford pulls the fairy tale trope apart like the cotton candy Lily eats - changelings and fortune tellers and Baba Yaga and even Old Scratch himself show up in the story, creating a new world that is as dark and gruesome as any Grimm Brothers' tale. And like a Grimm story, Ford's manages to take us from darkness to light through the simple magics of innocent love.
I recommend this book to readers of fairy tales, especially those who seek the terror and darkness in order to slay the monsters who lay in hiding there.
Thus begins the coming-of-age story of Lily, who has always lived happily in a seaside village with her mother and her fisherman father until his death changes her life. Like other central characters in fairy tales, she is given magical gifts (from her late father) and tested by an antagonist, the witch Baba Yaga from Russian folklore.
When Lily is unable to foresee the death of the witch, she asks: “Are you death or life?”
The witch simply loses her temper, and tells Lily she is “not ready for Baba’s game.” However, Baba Yaga is intrigued by the “wild magic” in Lily, and thinks: “Such a girl could be very useful. Or dangerous. Possibly both.” The witch decides to follow Lily in her journey beyond the safety of childhood into the dangerous world. Although she is a cannibal who eats children, the witch becomes a kind of supernatural godmother to Lily, an older woman who is better for her than Lily’s own mother.
Lily feels so guilty for her father’s death – brought on, she thinks, by her ability to foresee it – that she hates the “other girl” inside her who has this ability, and wants her to die. Lily’s self-contempt makes her vulnerable to a harsh religion in the outside world, where her mother was raised, and where she returns, with Lily, after the death of her husband.
What strange cult is this? Christianity.
The sly feminism of this fable is revealed in its neat reversals of traditional morality. A worse villain than Baba Yaga is the Reverend, leader of a traveling carnival, who converts townsfolk by making them afraid of the consequences of “sin,” a concept that seemed unknown in the village of Lily’s birth. With the full co-operation of Lily’s mother, the Reverend uses her prophetic ability to persuade potential converts that they can avert death – or at least violent death – by following his rules.
Part of the charm of this novel is the way it combines actual history and folklore from various cultures. While the Russian witch persistently stalks Lily in a version of nineteenth-century America, one of the women in the Christian carnival is a ghost whose child was traded for a changeling, a fairy boy who is trapped where he is. The fanciful illustrations at the beginning of each chapter add to the impression that this plot could take place anywhere, or nowhere in the actual world. (The drawing of a naked, gnome-like creature smoking a cigarette on the book’s back cover hilariously conveys the cynicism of the carnival roustabouts.)
Of course, Lily is being tested, and she can only return to her home in the seaside village if she passes the test. Lily`s compassion for a captive girl, covered against her will with marks of “sin,” enables Lily to break through her own self-contempt, find allies, and overcome hopelessness.
The whole saga is parallel to inspiring, based-on-real-life stories of young women who have been ensnared by men’s lies, but who escape and rescue others while coming to understand their own “wild magic.” This version, however, is more fun.