What Makes a Good Neighbor
Ever have one of those days where it isn’t anything like what you think but the other keeps popping into your head anyway? Wait, that sounds weird. Let me start over…
Ever have one of those days when a commercial is stuck in your head and you know why it is stuck in your head but the thing that put it there has nothing to do with the commercial in any way shape or form? That questions looks more complicated than I want to think that it is. But it might be just because it is long and it actually tells us nothing about what I am digging into this week. So maybe we should start over again, again?
Or maybe I should just stop screwing around and actually jump into the thoughts of the day…
I had been seeing the graphic novels in a couple of the libraries I visit on a fairly regular basis but hadn’t committed to them for what ever reason. Really, it had to do with the title of the series more than anything else. As much as I fight it, titles do lend to our view of the work at hand. I mean, sure it is only one factor and there are other ways of enticing a reader. But when you are looking at the spine on a bookshelf and the only thing you have to go by is the title itself, sometimes you need something that will grab you in order to pull it off.
Granted after the number of times I had seen them they had grown on me and the nagging need to look at the books themselves was growing little by little. And then something else happened (this is the incremental stuff outside of titles that brings a reader to the work). I was looking at a couple books in the Spiderwick series and noticed that one of the writers had written something else outside of that series. This just happened to be the graphic novels I had been semi ignoring for a while. I realized I couldn’t let it all pass by anymore.
So this brings us back to one of the original questions and the series title of the books, The Good Neighbors (Graphix reprinted 2009). The author in question is Holly Black, she has a number of fantasy story credits to her name including some of the Spiderwick books (good stuff, check her out). And now back to that question, and I am sure that you are thinking the same thing that I am with the proliferation of the insurance commercials. No relation what so ever but still the connection my mind makes when I see the series title. It’s one of those things about how the culture affects the words use and meanings in our language. Some times good, sometimes bad, and often enough to make you say what the hell happened there.
Which brings me to another bit of odd language within the titles of these books. See, there are three books for this series; Kin, Kith, and Kind. When you examine the words you can see the relation to each of them. Kind is of course from the root of kin (at least in ways I have understood some language lore). And Kith and Kin, though antiquated, has been around for a long time.
I had to do a search and a dictionary reference I found for kith basically gave it a slightly bigger meaning than kin. Where kin is your familial relations, kith brings that as well as close family friends into the fold. Kind of course has many different meanings but it fits into this with those who are similar (think mankind. We are all human). But with the root of kin it brings that your family is close to what you are and you expect a specific treatment from those who are related. And I am getting incredibly deep about the words without actually talking about the stories themselves. But I have one more…
So in some vampire lore, vampires are referred to as kindred (again that root word kin). So what we find is all the words used for the titles of these stories and series bring to mind some things for me that have absolutely nothing to do with the stories themselves. These books are not about insurance and they aren’t really about vampires.
Which is funny, because when we look at the writer we wouldn’t necessarily jump to thoughts about vampires right away. Instead as we dig through we find something a bit different. The stories are a bit of a romp through a fairy land and how it is connected to our human world. And this is where the idea of the good neighbor comes into play. I have never until now heard that term used to describe the fairy realms and their connection to our human world. So we have all these different elements of word context coming into play as we dig into the stories and with these words our minds are set to certain perceptions.
I like the way that all of these elements work together in helping us come to the world that the story in habits. There are connections we make because of the language that bridges some of the gaps we might have had coming into the story cold (well except for the insurance commercials. They serve no purpose).
But here’s the thing. At its heart, the story is essentially a young adult story. There are the usual elements of the protagonist feeling isolated and cut off from the elements of life and things changing in her life. She isn’t quite an adult and she isn’t quite a child anymore. And we still go one step further. Like is common with many stories like this we have a bit of the hero’s journey buried in the words (or pictures since they are graphic novels) but some of the usual tropes are turned on their head.
At times we feel like we have a chosen one with the protagonist. Whenever we hear chosen one we think balance to the force and the one who will win the day blah to freaking blah. And it is in there. But how it plays out happens halfway through the story and isn’t what we think it is going to be in any way shape or form. When the moment came I was sitting there and had to set the book aside for a moment. I didn’t see that coming. See, our villain, isn’t always who we expect it to be.
People change and grow, even in stories and they do the unexpected when we least expect it to happen. This takes us back to the set up and the expectations we have because of the words used and the ideas placed in our heads from what we have seen and experienced in the past.
Which brings us to this. I probably haven’t really said much of what the stories are (what else is new), except to say that there are words used with added weight and baggage that bring with them expectations. And then they are young adult stories which brings even more expectations and baggage. But the stories themselves play to all these expectations in ways that sometimes intermingle and other times fly far and wide away. They give us this feeling of what it is like to be an outsider in the world we know while at the same time, giving us the familiar feeling that we have always experienced in our own lives.
I enjoyed the stories. Even if they make you think of insurance commercials every time you see the series title, they are worth some time to explore. Because you know that like a good neighbor…
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