Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dust City

How to explain Dust City? Think of the children's books and movies you read and watched as a child, where the animals wore clothes and walked on two legs and were human in every way but looks. Now take those images and put them into, say, Gotham City, and that's the setting for Dust City. It takes some getting used to. Robert Paul Weston has written a dark fairytale for young adults, one in which the magic has been tainted and familiar characters from our Disney-fied Grimm's Tales walk the streets as hardened businessmen, cops, and criminals.

Henry Whelp is the son of the notorious wolf who killed Little Red Riding Hood. His dad's in jail, and he's in juvie for minor crimes of his own. Henry likes to stay out of the way of the other wolves, ravens, foxes, and hominids (yeah, it took me awhile to figure that one out too; think humans, elves, goblins, anything that's not an animal) who inhabit St. Remus Home for Wayward Youth. But a mysterious death and a packet of letters from his father convince Henry to escape from the Home and set out to discover the truth about his father's claims and the city's addiction to leftover fairydust. The fairies might still be alive, and Henry's dad might not be a cold killer. The only way for Henry to find out is to go underground in the steps of his dad and hope he doesn't end up going too far.

The premise of this story intrigued me, but the beginning didn't grip me. The author throws you right into his world, and it takes awhile to find your bearings and get up to speed. At first, I just couldn't reconcile images of wolves on two legs with the style of story I was reading. It seemed too jarring of a juxtaposition. I've read other books that take fairytales and completely turn them around and upside down. Gail Carson Levine does this well in Ella Enchanted (book, not movie), for instance. Also, the animated spoof of Little Red Riding Hood, Hoodwinked, comes to mind. Dust City is a completely different kind of story, still based on fairytales but oh, so unique. Once the mysteries and dangers began to accumulate and I figured out what a hominid was, I finally was able to appreciate the story for what it was, and then I was hooked.

If you give Dust City a chance, you might be pleasantly surprised by its creativity and depth. It's more than a gritty mixed up fairytale mystery. It's a story about a world where animals live like humans but a wolf is still considered a wolf, and the divisions between species and race are as confusing as they sometimes are in the real world today.

Four stars for creative plot and intriguing storytelling. ✭✭✭✭✩

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