Friday, May 17, 2013

A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn

A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Talia fell under a spell...Jack broke the curse.

I was told to beware the accursed spindle, but it was so enchanting, so hypnotic...

I was looking for a little adventure the day I ditched my tour group. But finding a comatose town, with a hot-looking chick asleep in it, was so not what I had in mind.

I awakened in the same place but in another time—to a stranger's soft kiss.

I couldn't help kissing her. Sometimes you just have to kiss someone. I didn't know this would happen.

Now I am in dire trouble because my father, the king, says I have brought ruin upon our country. I have no choice but to run away with this commoner!

Now I'm stuck with a bratty princess and a trunk full of her jewels...The good news: My parents will freak!

Think you have dating issues? Try locking lips with a snoozing stunner who turns out to be 316 years old. Can a kiss transcend all—even time?

Type of Adaptation: Combination retelling and modernization

Alex Flinn loves her modernizations, and thank goodness she does, because I love them, too. I am always fascinated by the prospect of putting classic fairy tales into the real, modern world because there are always issues you have to overcome, usually about magic.

So, how does Flinn handle Sleeping Beauty? By keeping Sleeping Beauty’s origin in the fairy tale world, but increasing the length of her sleep so that when she woke up, it was in the modern world with a modern boy, 300 years later. Her kingdom is no longer a recognized kingdom, Jack isn’t a prince, and at 16, he’s gonna get married over his dead body.

And let’s play our game, ladies and gentlemen.

This is such a fascinating idea to me that I’m surprised someone hadn’t done it already. But we start with Talia (nice throwback to “Talia, Sun, and Moon,” one of the oldest and most disturbing Sleeping Beauty stories out there), a princess in the 17th century of a country called Euphrasia, and she has been told from the time she was old enough to understand the words that she must never touch a spindle.

She is told this by everyone, constantly, but no one ever explains why, and no one seems bothered by the fact that she doesn’t really know what a spindle looks like, since there aren’t any anywhere in the kingdom. It takes her years of wheedling to get the story of ‘why’ out of her constant companion, Lady Brooke.

And here’s something I love – Talia may have been gifted with grace and beauty and talent and all that, but for all her fairy gifts, she’s kind of a spoiled brat, and she’s irritating as hell. It’s wonderful because in making her flawed, we both turn her supposed fairy “perfection” on its head and give her room to grow as a character.

And this book more than any others we’ve read so far really brings home the fact that this iconic character doesn’t know anything about the iconic christening except what people are willing to tell her. And in this case, that’s not much. She’s startlingly ignorant of the circumstances because no one tells her about them; they just say “Don’t touch a spindle!”

Anyway, her sixteenth birthday is approaching and all she can think about are the dresses that have been made for her. Her father has commissioned twenty tailors from countries around the world to each create twenty-five gowns for her to pick and choose for her birthday celebrations, and this scene is where we really see just how much of a brat Talia is. Surrounded by such wealthy extravagance and craftsmanship, all she can do is complain because no one has brought a dress of a green the exact shade of her eyes. I mean, you kinda want to strangle this girl and go “Are you freakin’ serious??”

Anyway, she manages to give her caretaker the slip as she goes to visit more rooms with more dresses, and she hears something from up in one of the towers, and so even though there isn’t supposed to be anyone up there, she goes up anyway, and finds a room full of gowns the exact shade of green as her eyes! And it will come as a surprise to no one that this has been orchestrated by Malvolia, the fairy who cursed Talia, and it was all to get her finger pricked on a spindle and bring the curse about.

Enter Jack. 300 years later, mind. Jack’s a teenager from Florida whose entire life is being controlled by his parents regardless of what he might want to do. So they’ve sent him to Europe for the summer because it will look good on a resume for college, but Jack thinks that if he has to walk through one more museum, he’s gonna scream. So instead, he slips away from his tour group, takes a bus to a random small town in Belgium and starts to explore.

And he finds something weird. There’s a great big briar hedge in the middle of this woods, and he works his way through it because he feels like it’s important that he do so. And when he gets through the briars, he’s in one of those fake Renaissance or Colonial time towns, and everyone’s asleep. He can’t wake them up, though he tries, and he keeps exploring, up into the castle.

It’s there that he finds Talia and she’s so beautiful that he decides he’s going to kiss her, but because he’s a modern kid and not a fairy tale prince, he does acknowledge that it’s a little creepy and probably morally wrong for him to kiss a sleeping girl. But he does it anyway.

His kiss wakes her up, but it takes him a while to talk her out of a frenzy, because Talia doesn’t remember going to sleep. And that’s another thing I like about this one – no one really knows what happened. In Talia’s head, she was just looking at all these dresses, and then this strange boy was here kissing her, and she has no idea that 300 years have passed.

And it’s fascinating to look at the fall out in this particular story, because this is not the happy ending anyone wants. Jack is horrified at the idea that he’s now supposed to marry this girl, the King is furious with Talia for doing exactly what she wasn’t supposed to do and sending the kingdom to sleep, and Talia is frustrated with the fact that no one will listen or believe that it wasn’t really her fault. And it all gets worse when the king finds out that he’s not technically a king anymore, that 300 years have passed and the world has changed incredibly. There are fights and arguments and Jack ends up thrown in the dungeon, awaiting execution.

But Talia is angry enough with her father that she grabs her jewelry box, sneaks Jack out of the dungeon, and they run away from Euphrasia. Talia blackmails Jack into taking her with him, and then Jack has to think on his feet because he’s got this girl who talks funny and dresses weirdly and doesn’t understand the first thing about modern technology or customs or anything.

But Talia has to go with Jack, and more than that, she has to make Jack fall in love with her; he woke her up, so he’s her prince, and the only way the curse stays broken is if Jack actually is her one true love. Malvolia has appeared to Talia and told her so. So Talia’s a bit desperate.

Jack uses her jewels to get money to buy her a fake passport and new clothes and plane tickets back to Florida mostly because he knows that bringing her home with him will freak out his parents and make his ex-girlfriend jealous. But it’s also a little because he feels sorry for her – he kinda got her into this mess, and the real world will destroy her if he doesn’t take care of her.

We depart a bit from the Sleeping Beauty narrative for a decent chunk of the book (but we get back to it at the end, which is why I’m still going), so I’m not going to go much into the antics that happen back in Florida. What I will touch on, though, is the way that this relationship between the two evolves. It is fascinating to watch, and really well done.

Talia started off our story as a spoiled brat who didn’t think much about the world around her or the other people in it. Jack helps her realize how important family is, what it’s like to have someone looking out for you and to be that person for someone else, and what talents and skills she has beyond being beautiful. She’s a natural diplomat, and being with Jack really helps her grow up.

Jack, on the other hand, started off our story as a sullen teenager rebelling against his parents, who didn’t want to take on any sort of responsibility, whose main goal in life was to find new ways to get his parents’ attention – usually through causing trouble. Talia helps him realize where his interests actually lie and what he really wants to do with his life, how to find the courage to stand up to his parents in a positive and productive way, and what it means to take responsibility for other people and himself.

They both grow in enormous ways because of the other, and it’s really well done. And Talia’s plan backfires a little. She meant to make Jack fall in love with her. But she found herself falling in love with him, instead. Of course, her plan also works.

But Malvolia feels she’s been cheated out of her ending, and she’s not going to let some immature teenage boy take her victory away from her.

When the curse broke, the hedge around Euphrasia started to disappear, and pretty soon the people could get out, and the King managed to find a reporter and start spreading the tale that his daughter had been kidnapped. The reporter is making a joke out of the whole thing, but it gets picked up by US news, and Jack’s family recognizes the portrait of Talia and demand an explanation.

And Jack is terrified of giving them one because it sounds crazy, but he has enough evidence that they do believe him in the end. And the plan is to take Talia back over to Euphrasia and try to work things out. But that’s before Malvolia steps in.

In the middle of the night, she magicks Talia away, back to her cottage in Euphrasia, and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that Talia and Jack will not be cheating her out of her revenge, that she will be delivering Talia to her father, dead, as was the original plan. Talia will sew the green dress she so envied, and once she has completed it, she will be killed and Malvolia will have won.

Using the skills Jack taught her she had, Talia gets Malvolia to talk about why she wants revenge on the king so badly, and it turns out that the story we all think we know isn’t entirely accurate. Malvolia isn’t a witch, as purported, but a fairy, and Talia isn’t her father’s first born child. There was a boy, born some years before Talia, named George, and Malvolia was the fairy chosen to create his christening gown.

She went to the palace one afternoon to fit it on him, and she was shown to nursery. It was empty. The prince’s nurse had stepped out, and when Malvolia entered, she discovered the baby dead in his crib. She did everything she could to revive him, eventually resorting to magic, which is of course when the nurse came back, saw the magic and the dead baby, and screamed for help.

The king was convinced that Malvolia had killed his son, and he wouldn’t let her defend herself. He called for her death, but she outwitted him and disappeared, and so instead, he had her title of fairy stripped from her, to be known instead as a witch of dark magic, a child killer. It was not true, she had done no such thing, but if the king was determined to blame her for the death of his child, then she vowed that she would one day make it true, hence the curse on Talia.

Talia uses her skills of diplomacy to try and reason with Malvolia, to convince her that her death will not bring justice, that her father was in the wrong, but that Talia being killed for it won’t fix anything. She promises to do what she can to clear Malvolia’s name and to truly see justice served. And because Malvolia isn’t evil, just hurt, and because she can see how Talia has grown and changed, Talia’s words have an effect. She asks if Talia truly loves Jack, and Talia answers truthfully: that she didn’t always, but she has come to, and she believes that the same is true of Jack. And so Malvolia agrees to a different kind of test.

She will put the sleeping spell back on Talia, and if Jack can find her, win his way to her, prove his love for her, then the spell will be broken, and Malvolia will never cause trouble again. But if Jack cannot do these things, if he fails, then Talia will sleep forever.

She agrees. And so, Malvolia puts Jack through his paces. And each of the obstacles is designed to have turned away the boy he was before. He has to walk for three days straight, each day making no real progress. The old Jack would have given up, not had the perseverance to keep going. The new Jack doesn’t. He has to answer a question about Talia every day. The old Jack wouldn’t have listened to know her dearest wish, but the new Jack does. And before he can make it to Talia in the cottage, he has to stand up to his father, take control of his own life, and commit to what he wants.

It’s hard, it’s a challenge, but Jack does it, and he kisses Talia awake, and he and his dad (who’s come with him) work out a plan to turn Euphrasia into a kind of theme park, like those old Colonial towns, and recreate the story to the tourists, and everything works out well for everyone.

Have I mentioned how much I love Alex Flinn’s modernizations?

Anyway. Checklist.

Make the characters more active in their story? Not initially, but that’s one of the things that I love. Both of these characters are passive and actively resisting taking any initiative when the curse is broken the first time. But over the course of the story, they grow into being active participants, and that is wonderful.

Introduce more conflict? Definitely. This wasn’t a case of jealousy or injured pride, but a real honest beef that Malvolia had with the King. She was out for revenge, plain and simple, and she didn’t just disappear once her curse was laid. She was around through the whole story and she had a much firmer motivation, and in the end, Talia and Jack had to prove their growth in order to move forward.

Explain the actions of the parents? This is where we fall a little short for me, just because I still find the King so aggravating, for blaming Talia because she acted as a curse promised she would. However, that characterization does fit with his actions throughout, and is part of Malvolia’s problem with him, so I’ll give the point.

Flesh the story out? Definitely. I love the double Sleeping Beauty. And watching this princess figure out the real world was very well done.

An excellent adaptation, all the way around.

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