Monday, December 15, 2014

My True Love Gave to Me

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories I've been looking forward to getting my hands on My True Love Gave to Me, a collection of holiday-themed stories written by well-known YA authors edited by Stephanie Perkins--and overall found the book delightful. Not every story in it was for me--but that's the nice thing about a collection, for every story I didn't love, there was a story that I did. Rather than describe all twelve stories, I just want to highlight my favorites. (Also, a note on the cover: the couples ice skating are the couples from the stories--it was fun to try to match the story with the image).

"Midnight" by Rainbow Rowell
I've loved everything by Rowell that I've read so far, and this story was no exception. Told in alternating flashes of time on December 31st, the story follows Mags and Noel, best friends who meet one year on Christmas Eve and build a friendship that spans high school into college. But there's a problem: Mags is hopelessly in love with Noel, who always manages to find someone else to kiss when the clock strikes midnight. I loved the voice--but mostly I loved how Rowell managed to capture that perfect, aching tension of wanting someone who doesn't want you.

"The Lady and the Fox," by Kelly Link
One of the nice surprises in this collection is that not all the stories are straight up contemporary YA--some have very definite flashes of fantasy. This was one of the latter. Miranda has spent every holiday with her glitzy godmother, one of the infamous Honeywell. When she was eleven, she first spotted him: a young man in a an eighteenth-century embroidered coat standing alone in the garden while it snows. When the snow stops, the boy vanishes. She searches for him every year, but she doesn't always see him (he only appears when it snows). I loved the romance behind the mystery--who is he? why does he only appear when it snows?--and the sort of fairy tale ending Link conjures to the story.

"Krampuslauf," by Holly Black
In characteristic style, Black takes her "holiday" inspiration from the old story of the Krampus, a creature older than the devil, the son of a Norse god. But in Fairmont, the rich people use the krampuslauf as an excuse for to raise money for charity, sanitizing the whole idea behind the festival. The main character (I've been going back through and can't find her name--it's told in first person) and her friends dress up with appropriate horns and funky attire, and in a desperate attempt to wean her friend Penny off a toxic rich boyfriend (who has another, equally rich girlfriend), they invite them to a holiday party where the plan is for Penny to confront him. But when an unexpected guest shows up at the party, all expectations are off. The party itself was meh, in my opinion, but I loved how Black dug into the underside of holiday traditions and I loved the unexpected bits of folklore and magic.

"Welcome to Christmas, CA" by Kiersten White
This story was adorable and heart-warming--the only story in the collection to actually make me cry. Maria lives in the dead-end town of Christmas, barely a blip on the already depressing landscape between Barstow and Baker, CA. She's desperate to get out of town, away from her mother whose grown more distant, and the step-father who's trying to intrude on her life. But when a new cook gets hired at the diner her mom runs, things start to change. Ben has a gift with food that starts to tie the town together and wins Maria over despite herself. What I loved about this was that so many people weren't what you expect them to be. I loved the sense of community and the overall warmth of the story. Not the most romantic of the stories, but one of the best.

"The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer," by Laini Taylor
Nor surprising that I loved this one--it has Taylor's signature lovely prose and curious unworldly creatures. Neve is an orphan, one of many girls seemingly at the mercy of the town's strange tradition: in the days leading up to Christmas, local men leave small gifts for the girl they're courting. In most cases, the girls say yes, because they are poor and they haven't other options. But Neve is being courted by the fire-and-brimstone preacher who has already buried three wives, and Neve would rather starve than marry him. But when her desperation reaches out and wakes the Dreamer nestled beneath their town, unexpected things start happening.

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