Sunday, April 18, 2010

Avalon High

Ellie's parents, both college professors, are on sabbatical, which means Ellie has to leave her home and friends in Minnesota and spend the next year of her life in Annapolis, Maryland. She is less than thrilled with the situation, but the upside is that the house they're staying in has a pool, and she spends most of the summer floating in it on a very comfortable raft. Life becomes interesting when she goes for a run in a nearby park and sees a boy there, another teenager, and when their eyes meet, Ellie feels as if she's known him forever.

When school starts, Ellie sees the boy - Will - again, and they become friends. Ellie is smitten, but Will has been going out with drop-dead gorgeous Jennifer for years. The more Ellie gets to know Will and his friends, including his best buddy Lance and his stepbrother Marco, the more she feels that there is something brewing under the surface. Marco keeps referring to her, most annoyingly, as "Lily Maid," which drives her crazy. How could he know that her medievalist parents named her after Elaine of Astolat, made famous in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shalott"? Elaine can't stand being named after someone so weak-willed and fragile that she'd kill herself because Sir Lancelot fell for Guinevere instead of her.

Parallels between the King Arthur tales are everywhere in Elaine's current situation, but it isn't until one of their teachers tells her outright that the battle between good and evil is being fought again, right there in Annapolis, and that she and her friends are reincarnated versions of characters from folklore and legend. Of course, she doesn't believe him...but what it it is true? And what if, as the teacher believes, it really is too late to fight off the powers of darkness? Ellie, refusing to be the sit-down-and-die person like Elaine of Astolat, takes matters into her own hands, even as a storm of terrifying force zeroes in on her town...

This novel was a lot of fun, and it handled not only the King Arthur legends very well, skillfully weaving them into the modern-day events of Ellie's life, but it also depicted a sweet, if fantastical, coming-of-age story with characters who were much more than the embodiment of ancient characters of legend - and in fact, defied stereotype in fun and surprising ways. I did find Ellie's constant skepticism, coupled with her willingness to act on things she kept saying she did not believe in, a bit wearing after a while, but I loved that her feelings for Will did not turn her into a pliant, self-sacrificing girl. She was strong and loyal, and while she had his best interests at heart, she also looked out for herself. I enjoyed the depiction of the setting, as Annapolis is one of my favorite towns - although I had to smile when Will kept going on and on about the fact that his father, a navy admiral, would only pay for him to go to college at the Naval Academy (it is actually free to those who are accepted into the school).

I loved Ellie's relationship with her professor parents, and the fact that they are so supportive of her, as well as the sweet, skillful way Cabot handles Will and Ellie's developing relationship. I also enjoyed the snippets from Tennyson's poem that introduced each chapter. This is the kind of book that is sure to make readers who are unfamiliar with the King Arthur stories want to learn more about them. Ellie and Will's story is apparently continued in a series of graphic novels called Avalon High: Coronation, which I'm looking forward to reading soon.

Avalon High by Meg Cabot; narrated by Debra Wiseman (Listening Library, 2005)

Also reviewed at:
Bookshelves of Doom: "There was a pretty awesome plot twist that I didn't see coming. Then I felt super-dumb for not seeing it coming. When I thought back, I realized that there had been lots of clues. But it was a good one."
My Favorite Author: "I thought this story was great. I rarely put it down because I was so curious how the King Arthur legend was going to unfold in modern day."

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