Monday, October 31, 2016

Saturday, the Twelfth of October (Norma Fox Mazer)

Saturday, the Twelfth of October
Norma Fox Mazer
Lizzie Skurnick Books
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Fourteen-year-old Alexandra "Zan" Ford lives in a crowded apartment with her mother, father, brothers, aunt, and cousins, but she feels alone. Nobody really notices anyone in the city, not even family. They're all too busy to talk to her about the many questions she has about life, about growing up, about all sorts of things. Her only outlet is her diary - so when her brother steals it to read aloud to his friends, Zan snaps. She runs out of the house to her favorite place, the boulder in Mechanix Park... and somehow slips thousands of years back in time. Primeval forests spread across the land. Strange creatures like giant ground sloths roam about. Then she meets the nearly-naked girl and boy, and she learns just how far from home she's come.
Burrum and her friend Sonte went to the meadow to see if the honey blossoms were in bloom - but found instead an impossible girl, a stranger who speaks in odd sounds and covers her whole body as though weak or ashamed. Burrum is certain this stranger, Meezzan, was sent by the spirits to be her new friend, and leads her home to the caves of the People. But Diwera, the "Wai Wai" or wise woman, has doubts. In the past, strangers always meant trouble, and the peculiar items Meezzan carries have powers beyond her own. If nobody else will heed her warnings, she may just have to take matters into her own hands.

REVIEW: I first read this book many, many years ago, and it left a strong enough impression on me that I figured it deserved a re-read when I saw it available via my library's Overdrive service. Mazer constructs an elaborate primitive society, one about as different from Zan's modern world as night from day. Everyone knows everyone else, and they're always talking or touching or sharing, with a deep-rooted emotional awareness and little to no concept of privacy, plus a culture that binds them almost on an intuitive level - one that Zan, hard as she tries, can never fully tune into. Some parts may read stilted today, but the People still come across as individuals, if individuals functioning on often-alien wavelengths. Their culture ties into the theme of Zan's journey, about what it means to be human in general and a young woman in particular (there's a moderately strong subplot about puberty and menstruation), and how she's not crazy for feeling lost in a society that's abandoned some of its most important aspects in its rush to embrace progress. This theme is even more relevant in today's society, with electronic communication too often ousting personal connection, than it was when Mazer wrote this in 1975. Though Zan means no malice or harm, her presence creates ripples through the close-knit society that herald changes to come, an unwitting snake in the garden from which tragedy must inevitably result. This isn't a story of modern humans bringing wisdom and enlightenment to primitive natives, but of civilization as a slow, inevitable rot that has cost us in ways we've forgotten to count. Misunderstandings compound, distrust breeds, but there is some sliver of hope that what was lost may be relearned. It's not a neat and perfect ending, for Zan or anyone else, but an authentic one, enough to warrant a Good rating despite some wandering now and again (and the occasionally forced feel of the primitive dialog, as Mazer attempts to convey the alien mindset of the People.)

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