________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 20. . . .January 28th, 2010.


The Painted Boy.

Charles de Lint.
New York, NY: Viking (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Canada), 2010.
431 pp., hardcover, $23.50.
ISBN 978-0-670-01191-9.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Rachel Seigel.

**** / 4




Jay clenched his fists, so tightly his nails dug half-moons into his palms. He turned back to find the gangbanger grinning, and the controlled calm he'd developed from years of training with Paupau disappeared as though it had never been.

He didn't fight it. Instead, he let that enormous something he always felt shifting inside him grow, rising up to fill not only himself, but the entire hall. No- it was more like he was filling the hall, because as the secret behemoth grew inside him, he merged with it. He could feel the weight of enormous wings on his shoulders pushing against the roof high above. His lungs were hot with raging coals and fire. There was a roaring in his ears, like a long continuous rumble of immediate thunder.

The fire, when it burst from his mouth could have erupted from a flamethrower: an awful, blistering tongue of heat that enveloped the gangbanger. Jay stomped his enormous hind foot-ten times the size of an elephants-and the ground shook, the building trembled. He stomped again, claiming his victory over his foe and marking his territory. Cracks streaked up the walls. Dust and plaster flaked and fell. A second blast of fame and the gangbanger was briefly outlined before he was entirely consumed and collapsed into ash.

Born into the Yellow Dragon Clan, 17-year-old Jay Li is part human, part dragon like his grandmother. Jay is sent on a quest he doesn't yet understand, a seemingly random point on a map that takes him far from his Chicago home and to Santo del Vado Viejo, a town in the Arizona desert overrun by gangs and inhabited by members of other animal clans. Now Jay must face a series of dangerous otherworldly but human challenges and find a way to live up to the man and the dragon he is meant to be.

     The story is primarily told from a third person point of view, interspersed with Jay's notebook entries. It's through the notebook entries that Jay really comes alive and develops as a character. Born with the family curse (or gift) of being one of the yellow dragon clan, Jay is unlike other teenagers. Burdened by the weight of his secret, Jay finds it impossible to connect with people and have friends, and he leads a fairly isolated life. When Paupau (grandmother) tells him he must go on a quest to somewhere that feels right, he ends up as far from his Chicago home as he could imagine. Santo del Vado Viejo has its own set of problems, but the people are deeply connected to each other and to the land, and for the first time, Jay feels connected to something. The novel contains strong themes of loyalty, friendship, honour, courage, and inner strength, all of which Jay needs to understand before he can truly lead. The secondary cast of characters is multi-dimensional and likeable, and de Lint successfully avoids stereotypes. Music also plays an important role in the novel and represents the different cultures and dynamics of the town. The author does an excellent job of blending Mexican, Native American and Ancient Chinese mythology into a well-crafted and interesting plot that creates opportunity for further reading on the folklore of these different cultures. The language is vivid and descriptive and brings the setting and characters to life. While there are no major content issues to make the book inappropriate for strong readers in middle school, the complexity of the story and gang violence make this a more suitable read for teenage readers.

Highly Recommended.

Rachel Seigel is the Selection Manager-Elementary at S&B Books Ltd. in Mississauga, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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