Book Review: Abarat

The early Hellraiser movies have long been favorites of mine and so Clive Barker’s name always means good things to me. I’ve long thought of Barker as a great mind in horror but, terrible fan that I am, I didn’t realize his work went beyond the one genre.

Needless to say, I was intrigued when I randomly learned he’d written a series of Young Adult fantasy novels, starting with Abarat. After reading the summary on the back of the book, the title immediately went on my summer reading list. Here’s the summary:

A journey beyond imagination is about to unfold…

It begins in the most boring place in the world: Chickentown, U.S.A. There lives Candy Quackenbush, her heart bursting for some clue as to what her future might hold.

When the answer comes, it’s not the one she expects.

Welcome to Abarat.

That little blip took me back to some of my favorite childhood movies and stories with the common theme of young person struggling to find his or her purpose, and then discovering it in a fantasy world (particularly the Harry Potter books, Labyrinth, and the Adventures of Baron Munchhausen the movie). These are the stories that have influenced and shaped my own writing.

The Review

It’s been a long time since I read YA fiction, which is bad news since it’s my novel’s genre. I think the last YA book I read was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when it had just come out.  It was a little jarring returning to it after so many years. Along the lines of my earlier adverbs post, some prevalent literary rules are broken in the genre but that sort of thing doesn’t bother me much, especially while traveling through a gorgeous world like Barker’s Abarat. He really is a master when it comes to creating unique creatures and settings; he doesn’t hold back. I might as well have been in Abarat as I read about Candy’s adventures.

I also want to note that there’s more diversity in Barker’s novel than I’ve seen in YA lit in general. This made me happy.

Barker’s prose captivates. I was taken on a ride right from the start with the first sentence.

The storm came up out of the southwest like a fiend, stalking its prey on legs of lightning.

So simple, so telling.

If you’re looking for a story that’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before and breaks the boundaries of structure and form, or a story that deals with issues rarely broached in literature, this probably isn’t the book for you. If you think “serious” literature is the only “good” literature, this isn’t the book for you.

I was looking for a book that reminded me why I love YA fantasy and inspired me to work harder on my own novel. This was the book for me.

What I Learned

Abarat gave my imagination much-needed exercise. Many times as I read, I wanted to run to my laptop and think of ways to make the world in my WIP richer. World-building is supposed to be fun, and I think I forgot that. Here’s a description of one of the islands in Abarat–the Yebba Dim Day, an island shaped like a big head:

It was a city, a city built from the litter of the sea. The street beneath her feet was made from timbers that had clearly been in the water for a long time, and the walls were lined with barnacle-encrusted stone. There were three columns supporting the roof, made of coral fragments cemented together. They were buzzing hives of life unto themselves; their elaborately constructed walls pierced with dozens of windows, from which light poured.

There were three main streets that wound up and around these coral hives, and they were all lined with habitations and thronged with the Yebba Dim Day’s citizens.

I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series.

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