Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Have you been in the mood for a movie, but not had anything in particular you want to see, so you just watch something that's available, and it blows you away?

Or has a friend ever dragged you along to an event that you didn't really feel like going to, and you meet your future husband have an outstanding time? (The first one actually happened to me, but it might not be as widely applicable.)

Or, how about this:  Have you ever decided to read something that you kind of didn't think you'd enjoy, but enough people were talking about it that you figured you may as well, and it wound up being your favorite book you'd read all summer?  Because that's what happened to me over the past few days with The Scorpio Races.

I'd been dragging my heels, as I mentioned earlier, because I was so unimpressed with Stiefvater's Shiver.  It had some atmosphere (and a pretty cover), but the story itself felt uninspired and unoriginal.  The Scorpio Races, on the other hand, is wildly creative.  Sure, it uses some familiar tropes--you have your plucky orphan(s), your repressed souls learning to trust enough to love, even your underdog sports story.  But since allegedly the only two storylines are "A stranger comes to town," or "The protagonist goes on a journey," I don't complain about familiar elements if they are combined in a new way, and if they tell a story that feels so true that it transcends its origins.

(Tangent--it would either be great fun or absolutely maddening to go through every book you've read and decide which of the two basic storylines it follows.  I'm thinking this book is more a journey book, although the journey is internal.)

I'm not going to give much of a synopsis, because there are plenty of those around.  Both Puck and Sean are protagonists you can root for fiercely, battered but not beaten by life.  The blending of the real world with fantasy elements and the vague sometime-in-the-last-100-years setting make it fascinating and magical.  Thisby seems REAL, in its fantasy elements as much as in its windswept island believability.  The villans are awful, and absolutely convincing.  The ending was just the right blend of bitter and sweet.

The language of the book is both beautiful and salty.  There are many romantic turns of phrases, but the ones that leapt out to me were the little jokes and wry island sayings.  Again, Stiefvater invented the island proverbs and turns of phrases, and in their very originality, they served to convince me that Thisby is a real place.

At one point, Puck reminisces that "Mum liked to say that sometimes things happened for a reason, that sometimes obstacles were there to stop you from doing something stupid....But when she said it to Gabe, Dad told him that sometimes it just means you need to try harder."   Puck and Sean must learn to tell the difference between the two, and--just as challenging--Puck must learn to accept that the same obstacle may mean one of those things to one person, and the other to someone else.

There is a lot to chew on as I continue thinking about the book.  I am excited to pass it along to my students next fall, and I have renewed enthusiasm for seeking out Stiefvater's other works.

Five Stars.  Totally deserves its awards and reputation.


  1. Lovely review, thanks for sharing! I've been curious about this book for a while and I've heard a lot great things. However books with a lot of hype around them make me a bit nervous to read them sometimes =)

    1. Yeah, I really dragged my heels on this one. I hope I'm not setting you up to be disappointed with my enthusiasm, but I really do think it's an unusually great story, well told.


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