I recently completed the YALSA Hub 2014 Reading Challenge. This is a yearly challenge that tasks participants with reading eligible books from a list that contains titles that have either won an award from YALSA or have earned a place on one of YALSA’s various book lists. YALSA is the American Library Association’s young adult division. After I completed the challenge, I was invited to submit a reader response. Not a review, but a story about my journey with my chosen book. The following is my full response. It’s kind of long, but enjoy!
“I had been intrigued by Marcus Sedgwick’s Midwinter Blood since I first found out about it. The title combined with the cover conjured up images in my head of witches dancing in the moonlight or ancient cults performing rites of sacrifice cloaked in secrecy. I knew immediately that I had to get my hands on this book, had to dive into what I hoped would be a chilling tale of horror and the supernatural.
I often borrow books from the library instead of buy, and I eagerly anticipated the day that my library would add a copy of this book to the collection. I was overjoyed when that day finally arrived and the book I had wanted to read was finally in my hands. My initial reaction was that the book was much shorter than I had expected, and I dreaded reading through it too fast, reaching the end, and having to move on to something else.
As I dived in, I was immediately struck by Sedgwick’s use of language. He writes so vividly that I could see the island in my mind, could map its pathways, cliffs, and ports. I often found myself interrupting whatever my roommate was doing to read a sentence or paragraph out loud to her. I couldn’t get enough descriptions of the island’s flowers, inhabitants, and landscapes. No wonder the inhabitants called the island Blessed. In fact, I found the descriptions of the simplicity and beauty of the island so compelling and real that I wanted to visit the island for myself.
Thank goodness I couldn’t! An island of peace and serenity this was not, contrary to all outward appearances. As I worked my way through the plot, through each story and historical period that Sedgwick chose to include, I found myself chilled and puzzled. I spent plenty of time trying to figure out the mysteries of the island myself. Why were there no children? Why didn’t the inhabitants of Blessed ever age? What was the significance of the dragon flowers? Ultimately, though, I had to bow to Sedwick’s masterful storytelling and simply let myself be pulled along by the plot. It was a delightful journey, steeped in history, mythology, and mystery.
And that ending! In a final story that threw back the curtain on the island’s mysteries, brought clarity to our heroes, and catapulted readers back to the present, everything came together. As I flipped the final page and closed the book, I was left in a sort of shell-shocked state. It took me quite a while to digest what had happened, make peace with it, and be able to move on to another novel.
Most of the books I read for the YALSA hub challenge were books I wouldn’t normally pick up. I didn’t enjoy a lot of them, and I wouldn’t really recommend them to my friends. But Midwinter Blood? A new favorite, one that I could read again and again. It changed me, left me different. So thanks for the introduction!”