If I was a debut author, I’d be edge-of-my-seat nervous to see the final cover design for my first novel. I’d be terrified that it would turn out to be nothing like what I’d hoped for, completely bland or at the very worst, horribly ugly. I’m guessing that Ellen Jensen Abbott breathed a big sigh of relief, or perhaps even let out a giant whoop of happiness when she first laid eyes on the cover of Watersmeet. Isn’t it wonderfully dark and a shade spooky and don’t you just feel like the girl is staring right at you? Love it. This book is practically going to leap into teen’s hands, I think. Ellen is a member of the fab group of debut authors, The Class of 2k9, and Watersmeet is heading into stores in April. Here’s a sneak peek at what is sure to be a hit read among Fantasy-loving teens.
Abisina is an outcast in her village because of her unusual hair, eyes and skin, and because she has never known her father. She is not the only outcast in Vranille. In fact, her community turns against anyone who is different, calling them freaks, treating those who are different with cruelty. Abisina is spared some of this because her mother is the village healer and the residents depend upon her skills everyday. All of this changes, however, when a strangely powerful leader comes to Vranille and the villagers turn into a crazed mob, hunting down the outcasts and forcing Abisina to flee for her life into the wild northern landscape. So begins her journey to find her father and Watersmeet, the legendary place known to Abisina only through her mother’s stories. She imagines it will be the home she has always dreamed of, but nothing has prepared her for the secrets she will find there.
Ellen Jensen Abbott’s story is a satisfying, well-crafted fantasy yarn. You’ll recognize many mythic creatures throughout the adventure: dwarves, fauns, centuars, hags, trolls and fairies. At its simplest, this is a quest tale, and so if you’re at all familiar with the fantasy genre, you will settle quickly into this story and world that Ellen Jensen Abbott creates. I felt straight away that there was something old-fashioned about the tone and the characters – and I’m talking old-fashioned in a good way. About a chapter in, I was thinking, “Oh good, this is exactly what I was hoping for.” Perhaps it’s the way that Ellen has so convincingly drawn for the reader the societies she has imagined. Vranille is a miserable place, and you know it from the start. Watersmeet is full of magic and wonder. There is always enough attention to setting and environment to allow you to be right there with Abisina as she moves from one new experience to the next. In addition, Ellen makes clear the social and cultural differences among the various creatures and communities, from their different rituals to their unique types of music and stories and legends. This differentiation helped to make the whole reading experience that much richer, and made Watersmeet feel all the more exotic and real.
It’s certainly a coming-of-age story, as Abisina faces challenges on the way to discovering her family and her future path. She’s a tough cookie, and although hers is a world full of magic and violence and strange creatures, I don’t think that will prevent readers from connecting to the way she struggles to discover who she is, and what she is meant to do. I can see Watersmeet working beautifully in the classroom, because it offers complex exploration of many discussion-worthy themes: unity and conflict, prejudice and power, evil and forgiveness and family. Just in case you can’t figure out exactly how to take it into the classroom, have no fear! Ellen Jensen Abbott provides some of the best looking Teachers’ Guides I’ve ever seen. Honest. If you don’t find her suggestions inspiring, you’re in the wrong job. You don’t have to do a thing (other than buy the books and hand them to your students). Can you tell Ellen is an English teacher? Lucky kids.
From what I can see, Ii’s looking like there might be a sequel, which will make many readers happy indeed. Grab Watersmeet in April 2009. It is published by Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books. Tune in soon for an interview with Ellen!