The Colors of Madeleine, Book One
Review posted June 18, 2013.
Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2013. 373 pages.
2013 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Award Winner for Fiction
A Corner of White doesn't fit neatly into categories. Yes, it's fantasy, because half of the story is set in a fantasy world. But the other half is set in modern-day Cambridge. In both worlds, we follow a teen with some big concerns. The two teens happen upon a crack between worlds -- a crack just big enough to send letters through.
Madeleine, in Cambridge, just turned fourteen. She used to be rich, living a jet-setting lifestyle. But when she ran away the last time (She made a habit of that.), her mother came, too. Now they live in an attic in historic Cambridge, and her mother mends clothing to get them by.
Elliot lives in the Kingdom of Cello. He's fifteen, and his father has been missing for months. Elliot's theory is that the same attacking Purple that killed his uncle Jon carried off his father along with the missing physics teacher, Mischka Taylor. He wants to find the Purple's lair and locate his father.
But events conspire to keep him at home this time.
I can't begin to summarize all that goes on in this book. Madeleine is being homeschooled in a cooperative along with Jack and Belle. They're studying great people who lived at Cambridge before them. Jack and Belle aren't sure what to make of her stories of when she was rich. She's not sure what to make of them, with Jack obsessed with horoscopes and Belle reading people's auras. But she never reads Madeleine's. Madeleine's mother is acting strangely, and when Madeleine writes to her father, hoping he will come get them, she doesn't get an answer in a hurry.
Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Cello has problems besides the disappearance of Elliot's father. Elliot lives in the Farms, and crops have been failing. But when the Butterfly Child shows up, everybody says she will help. So why is she sleeping all the time? Then there are the touring Princess Sisters, the sheriff's deputy who's so good at finding missing persons, and the couple from Olde Quainte who are renting his father's shop, with their daughter who never speaks.
During all of this, Madeleine and Elliot exchange letters. Of course, Madeleine thinks he's making it all up. The Colour Attacks sound like nonsense. She thinks he's a budding writer who's invented a fantasy kingdom. But along the way, they both give each other good advice.
For at least half of the book, I was distracted by how completely impossible the Kingdom of Cello's existence is. They have generally random seasons, lasting a few hours to a few weeks. I'm with Madeleine in thinking the Colour Attacks don't make a whole lot of sense. In fact, I had to laugh at the Acknowledgments at the end, where the author says, "Adam Gatenby talked to me about farming life and Alistair Baillie talked about physics, and I am thankful to them both. (Here I should note that Adam considers farming in shifting seasons to be impossible, and that Alistair has similar doubts about colors taking on corporeal form.)" I want to add that I don't understand how the seasons could shift. Ours are caused by the earth's revolution around the sun. It's clear they have a sun. How could the seasons shift so randomly?
However, by the end of the book, I was finally won over. I like the story and the characters so much, I was willing to forgive. It took longer than most fantasy tales, but in the end, okay, with small reservations. And I loved the plot twist at the end. It does lead into the rest of the series, but the story in this book still came to a satisfying conclusion.
And I love these characters. They're not perfect. They're trying to figure out life, each with their own obstacles to overcome. The plot was well-worked out. That's what I don't want to say too much about, for fear of giving something away. But it says a lot that I'm willing to forgive the unlikeliness of the alternate world in order to spend time with these people. And I very much want to know what happens next.