13 March 2007

Cybils Nominee Pucker

Pucker, by Melanie Gideon, has a provocative premise. In fact, it has two or three provocative premises.

Young Thomas Quicksilver lives in a society where everyone starts the day by hearing about his or her future from official Seers. This society, Isaura, has blocked itself off from other nations (and most modern technologies) to protect its Seers from war and exploitation.

Then Thomas and his family suffer a calamity: his father dies, his mother loses the Seerskin that lets her foretell the future, and his face is badly burned in a fire. His mother flees with him to the great outside world, where she unexpectedly regains her gift for telling fortunes, and thus finds a livelihood.

Actually, all that is related in flashback, from the perspective of the adolescent Thomas. Who is, you won’t be surprised to learn, grumpy. Grumpy because his scarred face freaks out his classmates, especially girls. Grumpy because his mother has become emotionally disabled by her psychic abilities. And probably grumpy because he’s an adolescent, but in his case his grumpiness seems merited.

But Thomas’s mother has a plan. Isaura quietly invites people from our world to come work in their society, performing slave labor in exchange for being cured of hard physical disabilities. Because of his scars, Thomas can convincingly enter that program and return to Isaura. There he’ll be able to track down his mother’s Seerskin and bring it back to America, restoring her health.

But once Thomas has reached Isaura and had his face restored, he discovers that he’s good-looking. Devastatingly handsome, in fact. Teenaged girls line up to make out with him--all except one, who’s naturally the girl he’s most attracted to. Meanwhile, his mother is waiting back home.

Pucker thus presents teens with a lot of interesting, perhaps unanswerable questions of the sort that fantasy literature alone can pose:

  • Is it good to know your immediate future down to the last detail?
  • How far can a society go to keep its most talented members from leaving?
  • Does Isaura offer a fair bargain to its menials?
  • What disability or fatal disease, if any, would make you give up your life to toil as a slave?
  • How would your thinking change if you, like Thomas, were incredibly sexy in Isaura and physically repulsive in America?
  • Does Thomas’s obligation to his mother outweigh his own needs and desires?
  • Do the wiseass remarks that protect Thomas when he’s scarred become simply rude when he’s not?
I was excited by the range of questions Pucker brought up.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think the novel followed through on those premises, or promises. In Part III, the book suddenly seems to hurry up, and fall apart. Some important events are described in hasty retrospect while other threads simply dissolve. Revelations fall thick and fast (none to be revealed here); some of that information should be devastating, but the characters barely react to what they’ve just learned. In the end, Thomas doesn’t seem crucial to the resolution of his own problems; the plot turns on the actions of other characters.

I was pleased to have read Pucker, and will keep my eye open for Melanie Gideon’s other books, but I was disappointed in how this one turned out. Perhaps there were too many balls in the air for any juggler.

1 comment:

gail said...

I'm glad you reviewed this book, thus giving it some more attention. I thought there were some plotting problems with Pucker. However, I loved that Thomas was a troubled teen with a unique problem. I also loved his voice. It didn't seem to be that cliched Holden Caulfield wannabe that many YA books with male protagonists seem to have.

Another book some of us on the scifi/YA nominating committee liked a great deal was Corbenic by Catherine Fisher. It's similar in that it involves a young man with a troubled relationship with his mother who is torn between two worlds. Very intense. We went with Pucker for the short list because the main character was younger than the main character in Pucker, more solidly YA.