Friday, March 27, 2009

A Quest to Our Human Roots

By Richard “Chip” Schrader
Book Review Editor
The Young Adult novel is an oft-overlooked genre among adult readers, even though they are frequently on critics’ short list for the year’s best fiction. Young Adult literature is defined by having a main character between the ages of about 13 to 18. This definition gives great leeway for content and reading levels, and the “YA” label is highly deceptive.
“Catcher in the Rye,” “The Golden Compass” and authors like Walter Dean Myers, James Patterson, and Neil Gaiman have contributed to this form of literature. It is as important, provocative and challenging as Adult fiction, and is treated as seriously.
Local author, R.I. Miller is a recent contributor to the Young Adult genre with his novel “The Touch of Bark, the Feel of Stone”. The story follows a misfit 13-year-old member of an indigenous tribe named Racken. With a deceased father who drowned making his spirit eternally “wander beneath the sea,” and a mother who is a great tribal healer, Racken wants to escape his vision dreams and become a hunter.
Angry with his mother for passing on her gift of intuition, Racken goes on a journey with Mathen, a sage spirit speaker to learn more deeply the blessings of what he considers his curse. As their journey progresses, the magical wolves that lead Racken and his rivalry with Thaypen all lend to the lessons he must learn if he truly is the chosen one Mathen seeks.
Told from a first person point of view, Miller nicely adapts his language to fit the narrator’s age without downplaying Racken’s intelligence. The descriptions focus more on Racken‘s internal life and the people around him, rather than the picturesque expanse on which he embarks with the other travelers. This element also lends to the introversion of the child seeking manhood from within.
The details are sparse to make the reading seem light, but each word must be savored in order to fully visualize the tapestry Miller has woven. It reads like a poem where every word counts, and has greater weight and value due to scarcity.
On a deeper level, this novel is about equating the value of the feminine power of intuition and insight with the masculine powers of physical strength and observation. It is about balance and harmony, and the deeper yearning for an understanding of human nature as Racken’s hands become “used to the touch of bark and the feel of stone.”
This is a book to pass on to younger readers after finishing, or to read together at a bonfire. Battling tribes, rough terrain, strange people and creatures all find their way into these pages. The narration has a campfire feel of vision quests, translated into a form that has become in modern times the coming of age novel.
All of the action, mysticism and folktales in this book make it impossible to put down. Highly recommended for anybody looking for a good story that brings the reader back to nature.
Photo caption: The book jacket of “The Touch of Bark, the Feel of Stone” by R.I. Miller. (Courtesy photo)