Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book Review: Serendipity Market

Once in a while I stumble upon a book that turns out to be a good read. Penny Blubaugh's Serendipity Market, her first novel for young adult readers, is one of those reads that gave me a warm, feel good feeling in the end. Its cover does not promise much- a row of tassels in varying colors. What is exciting about that? But instincts told me it's going to be a quiet and powerful book.

It begins with Mama Inez who woke up one morning feeling the earth in a state of imbalance. Something was wrong in the world and she needed to set things right. She prepared ten invitations and sent these out using her magic. Thanks to Tobie's breath, all invites, paper birds that flew great distances irregardless of time and space, reached its intended recipient.

"You're invited to the Serendipity Market at the end of the world. Saturday next. Bring your story, bring a talisman. Help us balance the world's spin." So it is said in the letter. Oh, what would I give to get such an invitation! All but one agreed to go to the end of the world where the Serendipity Market stands and under Mama Inez's tent, a storytelling feast!

What worked

The very idea that stories need to be told to put the world back in order glued me to the book instantly. As a storyteller, I have seen and experienced the magic of storytelling to heal and to bring communities together. I know what you're talking about, Ms. Penny Blubaugh! Stories are essential for living. Storytelling affirms this relevance of stories. The stories told at the end of the world, in the Serendipity Market, under Mama Inez's tent were devoid of any form of media or technology. At center stage, there stood the storyteller with his or her story. The crowd listened. There's response. There's connection. Storyteller and listeners were given the opportunity to celebrate milestones, to revel in the nobility of sacrifices great or small, to ruminate on the complexities of being human, and to savor the little triumphs of everyday.

Storytelling in Serendipity Market was not a contest or a competition. It should never be in the first place.

The stories of the eleven storytellers were taken from the old folk literature, retold in new perspectives; its motifs and themes were seen from fresh eyes; and the voices from which the telling came from were firm and strong. Blubaugh knows her folk literature alright, but it is her craft and characterization that worked wonders. She has a sensitive ear for language and she puts this to good use. All eleven storytellers had a voice uniquely their own. My personal favorites are Lizard Man from a retelling of Cinderella; Prince Zola (who would have thought?) from the newer version of The Princess and the Pea; and Vachel, the merman.

In the end, Mama Inez puts together the talismans from each teller in a jar forming the image of a person. Nothing fancy, these talismans, just bits and pieces of objects that represented each story, each teller. Each of them brought home a ring as token of the time spent under the tent telling stories.

What did not work

Nine stories make for a good number but I wish the tenth teller made it to the market as well.

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