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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 10 months ago

8 December 2002 STRAVAGANZA: CITY OF MASKS by Mary Hoffman, Bloomsbury, September 2002


As some of you might suspect, having BudNotBuddy for an AOL screen name results in my frequently receiving instant messages from kids hoping to "meet" Christopher Paul Curtis. Some have become familiar online acquaintances of mine despite my inability to hook them up with Chris or answer all of their assigned questions about him, and despite my unwillingness to help them complete their book reports. (Actually, many of these kids simply want to tell Chris how amazing his book is.)


Such is the way I'd met a pair of my online middle school "buddies" from New Jersey who were waiting for me today when I returned from a morning in town (even though I HAVE encouraged them instead to go bug their fellow 'Jersey native/AOL member/Famous Author, David Lubar).


Having come home to their awaiting messages demanding to know what I was reading today and whether it was any good, I had the pleasure of telling them that I'd just finished STRAVAGANZA: CITY OF MASKS. I informed them that it is a great story that is full of time travel, deceit, suspense, death, joy, magic, water, pomp and ceremony, and young love.


"The seaweed is always greener

In somebody else's lake

You dream about going up there

But that is a big mistake

Just look at the world around you

Right here on the ocean floor

Such wonderful things surround you

What more is you lookin' for?"

--Sebastian the Crab


That's what came to mind after reaching the end of STRAVAGANZA--the fulfillment that enveloped me at the end of Disney's Little Mermaid. Come on! Tell me you didn't feel totally great after all of Ursula's evil schemes were thwarted and the two young lovers got it together? STRAVAGANZA is even better, because you get all that intensity and scary stuff, but you also get seriously strong female characters who don't intend to put up with any of that "only boys can do it" nonsense, and who don't go meekly mooning about playing with their "whozits and whatzits galore." And on top of that, to provide a truly feel-good happy ending to a book about a boy with a brain tumor is certainly one masterful feat in itself!


That boy, Lucien Mulholland, a young, 21st century resident of North London, is having a terrible time enduring chemo when his father turns him on to a salvaged old notebook with thin pages and a beautiful, marbled cover that comes from Venice. His father also tells Lucien stories of visiting that mysterious land of islands and canals in his own youth. But, when Lucien falls asleep and awakens in a Venice-like setting, it is not the city of his father's memory but, instead, a 1577 parallel version called Bellezza which is ruled by The Duchessa. Lucien's first contact in this new land is Arienna, a feisty girl his own age who has snuck into town dressed as a boy in order to be chosen to train as one of the Duchessa's mandoliers--the heralded guys who pole her royal mandolas (gondola-like crafts) around the city.


"I can't stand this indecision

Married with a lack of vision

Everybody wants to rule the world"

--Tears for Fears


There is a large cast involved in the palace intrigue that Lucien falls into when he unexpectedly arrives in Belezza. That intrigue involves a wealthy family trying to do in the Duchessa since she won't play ball and yield the City over to their megalomaniacal schemes. And don't think that the women have a monopoly on the smart-and-strong-yet-sensitive characters. Lucien acquires two great father figures in Belezza, one of whom speaks in Elizabethan English.


The title, STRAVAGANZA, comes from stravagation, the time travelling that Lucien practices. This joyful and magical tale is the first volume of a trilogy. Hopefully, by the time Mary Hoffman completes the second book CITY OF STARS, the word will be out big-time and young readers will join me in wishing they could be part of that world.


Richie Partington




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