“A word after a word after a word is power” Margaret Atwood

When you hear the name Margaret Atwood, what comes to mind? I asked several people this question and besides the “Who’s that?” I got from my son (…sigh…), most people answered that she’s Canadian and that she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale. Other people said she wrote stuff that was “weird” or “dark.”

In fact, Margaret Atwood is a world famous novelist of many titles, as well as a poet, teacher, literary critic, environmental activist with a particular focus on oceans, and an inventor. I recently had the opportunity to hear her speak at a fundraiser THEMUSEUM hosted at Centre in the Square. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect with the headliner “From The Handmaid’s Tale to Art &Technology.” What I discovered was Margaret Atwood is actually quite funny, brilliant, profound, and a little bit saucy!

Daiene Vernile, former journalist, politician and cabinet member, led the conversation…that is unless Atwood wagged her finger and either pointed out that she wasn’t finished talking, or would say “Didn’t you mean to ask me about…?”

I learned that Atwood grew up with very scientific parents in northern Quebec where there was no school to attend. Instead, she read any book she could get her hands on, including her parents scientific books.

When Vernile described her as visionary, Atwood disagreed. She said she reads a lot of science newsletters and magazines, and that the seeds of her ideas can be found in these items. Scientific American is something she reads faithfully: you can also read it at WPL in magazine format, or through our digital library using RBdigital and your library card.

As you may know, The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of a totalitarian group named Gilead, who has taken over the government in the United States. Women who are still fertile are forced to become handmaids, in order to bear children for their masters and their wives. These handmaids have had their families, careers, and even their names have been taken away from them. Offred (she is now named this because she is of-Fred who is her master) tells her story, switching between her past life and her current circumstances.

Atwood said she had one rule while she was writing The Handmaid’s Tale: that she would only include things that had already been done TO someone BY someone. I don’t know about you but I found this very scary. She finished writing this book in Alabama, and mentioned the irony of this considering their recent anti-abortion law.

The popularity of The Handmaid’s Tale has increased dramatically with the release of the TV series by the same name. WPL has Season 1 and Season 2 in our collection for customers to borrow. Many people don’t realize that a lot of taping for the show occurs nearby, in Cambridge. You can search the Internet to look for familiar scenes or follow this link to Cbridge.ca for pictures and information.

The handmaid’s red cloak and wide white bonnet have become common sights at protests around the world. No words or signs are needed but the message they present is clear. Atwood seemed humbled that a costume she created in a book has become a powerful “voice” for women today.

Atwood has now written a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale entitled The Testaments. It will be released this fall, on September 10th. WPL already has copies on order. I can’t wait!

— Sandy W.

The Next Great Teen Read

As a Library Assistant, there is nothing I find more encouraging than having a teenager approach my desk looking for something to read. With Tumblr, Snapchat, WhatsApp and whatever other social media outlets out there that I’m far too old to understand it’s awesome to know that there are still so many teenagers who enjoy reading a good old fashioned book.

The best reader’s advisory questions I get are from high school students looking for their next great read. I always make sure I have a running list of the latest teen fiction to suit which ever genre appeals to them. This can be tricky, however, when faced with those keen readers that have already finished all of the popular teen titles in our collection. For this reason I was thrilled when The Echo Room by Parker Peeveyhouse crossed my desk.

In The Echo Room, Rett wakes up in an abandoned building. There is no food and no water. He has no memory of how he got there. There is blood on his clothes. There is blood on his hands. The only clue is the phrase “Scatter 3” written on the wall.

Stumbling through empty rooms, he comes across a girl named Bryn. She also claims to have no memory. As they explore, danger arrives. Their memories erase and the day repeats. And it repeats again. And again. Every time the day repeats, the reader learns a little more about Rett and Bryn’s situation.

The outside world is failing. Crops are making people sick. Parents are forced to work off their medical bills at government run facilities. Their children are being left to be raised in orphanages. As Rett and Bryn make their way through the abandoned building, they discover that surrounding area has turned into a wasteland- nothing but rocks and ruined structures. As the days keep repeating, Rett and Bryn begin to recall tiny parts of their former lives and they must put all the pieces together if they want to survive.

I am so excited to have another excellent title to recommend to those enthusiastic teen readers who come to my desk. The Echo Room will appeal to fans of The Maze Runner series, yet it offers a whole new take, combining all of the elements of a thriller, survival and science fiction book into one. Teen readers this IS your next great read.

— Lesley L.

The Winnowing

The trickiest questions I’m asked at WPL’s Information Desk often come from vivacious teen dystopian readers. They have already read all the popular titles. They were captivated by The Hunger Games long before it was popular. They were engrossed in Divergent long before it was made into a movie. They devoured Lois Lowry’s books before they even got to high school. So what’s left to recommend? Thankfully, Canadian author Vikki VanSickle has come to the rescue with her latest title, The Winnowing.

The Winnowing offers a retelling of history, mixed with conspiracy and science fiction. After World War II the world faces a spreading infertility crisis. No children have been born since the end of the war and the human race faces extinction. Fast forward to 1989 – the small town of Darby, New Mexico is home to a group of scientists who have miraculously found a way to reverse the crisis. The cure is now administered to all children.

The book begins with a young woman, Marivic, having vivid nightmares of running through burning lava. The dream seems so real that it feels as though her feet are truly being scorched. This is the first sign of ACES (Adolescent Chromosomniatic Episodes), the side effect of the cure that all teenagers experience during the onset of puberty. Next, they will develop extraordinary abilities that stretch beyond human limitations. If they do not undergo a procedure called The Winnowing, they become a danger to themselves and those around them. Those who complete the winnowing are left with hazy memories, unable to recall any specific details of the procedure.

Like all teenagers in Darby, Marivic is sent to a medical centre to be treated for her ACES. Her best friend Saren is already there, having started treatment sometime earlier. Together they encounter a suspicious young man who claims to have information linking The Winnowing to more sinister events.

Science fiction enthusiasts will notice various references to famous sci-fi creators sprinkled throughout the novel, the most notable being the character of Dr. Roddenbury (a nod to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenbury).

The Winnowing, which is a Red Maple Fiction Award nominee, will appeal to vivacious dystopian fans, as well as those who enjoy a good conspiracy theory.

— Lesley L.