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Mercury Hardcover – April 6, 2010
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 8 Up—Set in Nova Scotia, this book relates two coming-of-age stories in tandem, showing how the past interweaves with the present. In the present, Tara and her mother have lost their old farmhouse in a fire, and Tara's mother is struggling to support them from far away while Tara lives with relatives. She loved the old house and wants to rebuild it, but her mother is pressured to find a job elsewhere. In 1859, Josey, Tara's ancestor, falls in love with a gold dowser who has convinced her father to open a mine. Her mother, who has supernatural sight, is sure that the dowser means no good. The stories collide as Tara goes searching for the gold said to have been hidden on her property, and Josey's tale reveals how it came to be hidden. Elements of the supernatural echo in both settings as Josey experiences the same visions her mother has and Tara discovers that she has a knack for dowsing. Though the end of the story leaves things hanging for Tara and her mother, the actions that the girl takes to gain control of her destiny suggest that she will find a way to achieve her goals. The storytelling, both in words and pictures, brilliantly offers details from Canadian history and modern life. The dialogue varies from funny to poignant. An excellent graphic novel, particularly for fans of Faith Erin Hicks's The War at Ellsmere (Slave Labor, 2008).—Alana Joli Abbott, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
*Starred Review* Larson (Chiggers, 2008) won an Eisner Award for Special Recognition in 2007 and is establishing an oeuvre of thoughtful, girl-centric graphic novels that often feature touches of unobtrusive fantasy, lending a dreamy quality that helps characterize her distinctive storytelling style. Mercury tells two tales: one of Josey, who lives in a small Canadian town in 1859; and the other of her descendant, Tara, who has returned to the same town in 2009, a year after her house burned to the ground. Tenth-grader Tara’s burgeoning relationships and her difficulty reacclimating to her old school will be more identifiable than Josey’s forbidden courtship with itinerant prospector Asa, but the use of two time lines delineates the different eras’ outlooks on family and romance, which brings some immutable human truths into high relief. The gentle dose of magic realism doesn’t feel incongruous and underscores the powerful ways in which past touches present. The insights unfold leisurely, but patient readers will find themselves deeply invested. Comparisons to Craig Thompson’s Blankets (2003) wouldn’t be inappropriate, but Larson continues to perfect her own unique style and offers something the graphic format is sadly short on: a coming-of-age story for girls. Grades 9-12. --Jesse Karp
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First of all the artwork, the style is fine but I felt like there were only 1-2 templates the people were drawn from, and without powerful characterization I often found myself double checking who everyone was. Given that the story seemed to rely heavily on meaningful looks and emotional expressions this didn't gel well.
Second the story was worthy, but I felt lacked real tension. The basic premise centers around an old-timey gold-rush era family and a modern family and their various trials. On an intellectual level the tales were linked well and should have made sense, but between the complaint above and little to alert the reader which time-span you were in I often found myself having to check the characters clothing to remind myself which story I was in. The old-time family probably held more drama as we see a family react to the appearance of a charming but suspicious stranger, and I could see what the story of the modern family was portraying but I felt it was a little flat. I'll probably have to use some SPOILERS to explain so...
SPOILERS AHEAD sorry
The story is basically about a young teenage heroine, who has to live with friends(relatives) due to tough circumstances, the tension is meant to sit with her families lack of income and the likelihood of having to move to another town so her mother can work, but she is settling in 'French Hill' and even has a boyfriend (ooooo). The story is wound up when our MC magically discovered a sack of gold (which was lost/hidden in the old-timey story). Anyway my problem with all this is not so much the details (as I mentioned intellectually its a good story) its more that the narrative didn't make me feel it, most of her story-line seemed just seemed to follow a hard done by teenager, sure moving away from your boyfriend sucks but it never really felt that bad (especially compared to the historic tale)
There was an awesome blurt of supernatural towards the end, which was really cool but probably underused and not really explained (it was probably deep cultural metaphoric stuff lost on an idiot like me but whatever) but I think ultimately Mercury could have thrived better as a fleshed out novel or with more story arc.
The artwork is tremendously eye-catching in this, my first foray into Larson's work. Black & white can be extremely effective in the hands of a pro and Hope Larson is such an artist. I was caught up in the artwork throughout the story and I think that the b/w captures a mood both for the historical fiction aspect as well as the magical elements that colour would never have conveyed.
This story takes place in small town Nova Scotia, Canada and switches back and forth from a modern family and their 1859 ancestors who have lived on the same property until two months ago when Tara's house burnt down. Now she is living nearby with relatives while her mother has gone to work in the oilfields of Alberta to make some money for them.
Switch to 1859 and we have Josey and her family who meet Asa, a young man who has an uncanny talent for finding gold and who courts Josey as they fall in love. The family's life changes with the finding of gold and descends into tragedy. While back in the present Tara is given an old family heirloom necklace, which she soon finds to have a strange power, from this point on her family's life takes a turn toward a bright future. Both girl's are each other's counterpoint in time and they experience romance and love for the first time.
The book started off a bit awkward for me. It took some getting into the story, as the switches back and forth in time are short and quick. It also took me a few switches to realize that the past pages were bordered with black, the only indicator that a switch had taken place. Once one gets used to this, the story comes alive and, for me, got better and better as it went along. I didn't have any connections to the past characters except for not liking any of them. The mother was strict, unfeeling and Josey was very naive; I liked the men even less. However, in the present I really enjoyed Tara's character. Her behaviour, way of speaking and attitude were all consistent with an intelligent, yet self conscious teenage girl. I really enjoyed how the two stories were connected to each other and how the plots were in contrast of each other. One a dark descent into tragedy, the other dependant on the circumstances of the past, brings hope and a possible bright future for the down & out characters.
One thing I found amusing, as a Canadian, were all the footnotes for the Canadianisms as if it were a foreign language. LOL! I can understand non-Canadians not knowing what a loonie is even though it is funny reading the definition. But do people really not know where oil is located in Canada? Any Canadian could tell you where it is in the US. And dinner? does that need defining? What about a "soaker"? I never realized that was Canadian. Do Americans not get soakers when they step in puddles? And one that had me was kims for kilometres. I've never heard that word used in my life; it must be regional. We always say the whole kilometres, though when we were kids we used to say klicks. But I think that was an '80s thing because my kids have never said it. Very entertaining, were the footnotes, indeed!
There was a short conversation about homeschooling which I found to be in bad taste and cliched but otherwise a very interesting story. I do wish the ending were more finite, as it is left up to the reader to decide what the final outcome will be, and I prefer my books to tell me how it ends. But I think this book is going to appeal to teens and critics alike and I won't be surprised to see it turn up on other award lists or "Best of" lists at the end of the year.