Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Libyrinth" by Pearl North

Summary: Haly has been a clerk in the Libyrinth since she was born, but while all the members of the Libyrinth are dedicated to the books within their care, Haly is the only who can hear the books--they speak to her, even without being opened.  For years the Libyrinth has been threatened by the Eradicants, a group of people who fear the written word, annually burning books, and rely on singing for all information.  Both groups are after the fabled Book of the Night, which will give the holder information of great power.  When Haly learns of a plot to steal the book, she sets off from the Libyrinth with her friend Clauda and the Libryarian Selene.  However, both Haly and Clauda will be more important to the future than anyone could have imagined.

Musings: Although I found mostly middling reviews on Libyrinth, I was intrigued by North's use of literature throughout the young adult novel.  The books speak to Haly, and these are not unknown books, but books we are all familiar with: Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl, Lord of the Flies, and Charlotte's Web, just to name a few.  I had a hoped for a kind of YA-Thursday Next (albeit without the humor), and I was in that sense somewhat disappointed.  Although quotes from novels pepper Libyrinth intermittently and speak apropos to Haly's current situation, they didn't feel like a fully integrated part of the book.

Haly and Clauda were somewhat generic characters for me, and although I wished them success, I didn't feel especially connected to them either.  The novel does largely succeed, however, in its commentary on the power and dangers of knowledge, and North was able to take a slightly different approach to censorship.  The Libryarian's rightly treasure books and the knowledge they possess, but they also hoard that knowledge, keeping it only for the elite within the Libryrinth.  The Eradicants (or Singers) fear literacy and destroy books, but through singing they ensure that all people have equal access to information.  Of course, both groups must come together in the end.  The reconciliation is perhaps overly optimistic (and, for me, a bit cheesy), but the message is nonetheless valid.

Unexpectedly, this book qualifies for both the POC Reading Challenge and the GLBT Reading Challenge.  I had been looking for books in the sci-fi/fantasy realm for those challenges, so it was especially exciting to unknowingly find one that fit both.  Haly is part Thesian, a group of dark-skinned people, and numerous Thesian characters are in the novel (the cover also seems to depict Haly well!).  Clauda is a lesbian, and although her sexuality is not a large part of the book, same sex relationships are periodically mentioned and are clearly an accepted part of this society.

In the end, Libyrinth wasn't a favorite, but I liked it more than I thought I would after reading a few other reviews.

***This book qualifies for the POC Reading Challenge and the GLBT Reading Challenge 2010.


  1. Nice review. This is one book that I ended up putting down before I finished it, because of the parts where the literature sort of sprang out of the text - and as you mentioned, the integration of the two wasn't perfect. I'm glad to hear you ended up liking it.

  2. I definitely was tempted not to finish it with so many pieces just not really fitting together. I probably only went through with it because I was excited to see GLBT representation in a YA fantasy. And I think, by the end, I was willing to ignore the holes and just go with it.