From the book jacket: Young Tessa is a diminutive girl, far too small for
farm work and the object of ridicule by both her own family and the other
children in their isolated Midwestern community. Her father seems to believe in
nothing beyond his crops, certainly not education for his misfit daughter. When
a mysterious, entrancing librarian comes to town, full of fabulous stories,
earthy wisdom and potions for the lovelorn, she takes Tessa under her wing,
teaching her to read and to believe in herselfand a whole new magical world of
possibilities opens up. But even as she blooms, Tessas father begins
sexually abusing her. And her mentor carries a dark secret of her own that
finally causes her to drown herself. Tessa runs off, following Marys footsteps,
to join the circus as a trapeze artist but she remains haunted by her past.
Comment: Like Water for Elephants, Carolyn Turgeon's first novel is set in the early 20th century during the golden era of the circus. Her heroine is inspired by Lillian Leitzell, a famous Ringling Bros trapeze artist who was apparently the first performer in history to command her own private Pullman car (complete with its own baby grand piano). However, Turgeon is quick to point out that Tessa is inspired by, not based on, Lillian - they do share certain characteristics but this is a wholly original story, not a fictionalized version of Lillian's life. This is also a book about books and the power that they can wield, especially in the hands of an inspirational librarian, which will likely make it a popular hand-sell for booksellers (it's already been selected as a BookSense pick). It's also a book about growing up different and finding out where you belong - and that dreams can come true.
As a first novel, Rain Village is worthy of note and bodes well for Turgeon in the future. However, it is not without its flaws; the initially invigorating plot seems to peter out into magical realism towards the end which, in the context of a storyline that up until that point had been based more or less in reality, seemed to be an odd direction to veer off into so firmly.
This review is from the November 12, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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