From the Hardcover edition.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Text Difficulty:4 - 6
From the book
Liga's father fiddled with the fire, fiddled and fiddled. Then he stood up, very suddenly."I will fetch more wood."
What's he angry about? Liga wondered. Or worried, or something. He is being very odd.
Snow-light rushed in, chilling the house. Then he clamped the door closed and it was cozy again, cozy and empty of him. Liga took a deep private breath then blew it out, slowly. Just these few moments would be her own.
But her next breath caught rough in her throat. She opened her eyes. Gray smoke was cauliflowering out of the fireplace, fogging the air. The smell! What unnamable rubbish had fallen in the fire?
She coughed so hard she must put aside the rush mat she was binding the edge of and give her whole body over to the coughing. Then pain caught her, low, and folded her just like a rush-stalk, it felt, in a line across her belly, crushing her innards. She could hardly get breath to cough. Sparks that were not from the fire jiggled and swam in her eyes--she could not see the fire for the smoke. She could not believe what she was feeling.
The pain eased just as abruptly. It let her get up. It gave her a moment to stagger to the door and open it, her insides dangerous, liquid, hot with surprise and readying to spasm again.
Her father was halfway back from the woodpile, his arms full. He bared his teeth at her, no less. "What you doing out?" White puffs came with the words. "Get back inside. Who said you could come out?"
"I cannot breathe in there." The cold air dived down her throat and she coughed again.
"Then go in and don't breathe! Shut the door--you're letting the smoke out. You're letting the heat." He dropped the wood in the snow.
"Has the chimney fallen in? Or what is it?" She wanted to step farther out and look.
But he sprang over the logs and ran at her. She was too surprised to fight him, and her insides were too delicate. The icicled edge of the thatch swept down across the heavy sky, and she was on the floor, the door slammed closed above her. It was dark after the snow-glare, the air thick with the billowing smoke. Outside, he shouted--she could not hear the words--and hurled his logs one by one at the door.
She pressed her nose and mouth into the crook of her elbow, but she had already gulped smoke. It sank through to her deepest insides, and there it clasped its thin black hands, all knuckles and nerves, and wrung them, and wrung them.
Time stretched and shrank. She seemed to stretch and shrink. The pain pressed her flat, the crashing of the wood. Da muttered out there, muttered forever; his muttering had begun before her thirteen years had, and she would never hear the end of it; she must simply be here while it rose from blackness and sank again like a great fish into a lake, like a great water snake. Then Liga's belly tightened again, and all was gone except the red fireworks inside her. The smoke boiled against her eyes and fought in her throat.
The pains resolved themselves into a movement, of innards wanting to force out. When she next could, she crawled to the door and threw her fists, her shoulder, against it. Was he out there anymore? Had he run off and left her imprisoned? "Let me out or I will shit on the floor of your house!"
There was some activity out there, scraping of logs, thuds of them farther from the door. White light sliced into the smoke. Out Liga blazed, in a dirty smoke-cloud, clambering over the tumbled wood, pushing past him, pushing past his eager face.
But it was too late for the cold, clean air to save her; her insides had already come loose. She could not run or she would shake them out. Already they were drooling down her...
About the Author-
Margo Lanagan's story collection, Red Spikes, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book and a Horn Book Fanfare, and Black Juice was a Printz Honor Book. She lives in Sydney, Australia.
Starred review from September 8, 2008
In her extraordinary and often dark first novel, award-winning story writer Lanagan (Red Spikes
) creates two worlds: the first a preindustrial village that might have sprung from a Brueghel canvas, a place of victims and victimizers; the second a personal heaven granted to Liga Longfield, who has survived her father's molestations and a gang rape but, with one baby and pregnant again, cannot risk any further pain. As she raises her two daughters, placid Branza and fiery Urdda, she discovers that her universe is permeable: a dwarf or “littlee man,” in Lanagan's characteristically knotted parlance, slips in and out of her world in search of treasure; and a good-hearted youth also enters, magically transformed into a bear in the process. A less kind man-bear follows, and then a teenage Urdda, avid for a richer life with the “vivid people,” figures out how to pass through the border, too. Writing in thick, clotted prose that holds the reader to a slow pace, Lanagan explores the savage and the gentlest sides of human nature, and how they coexist. With suggestions of bestiality and sodomy, the novel demands maturity—but the challenging text will attract only an ambitious audience anyway. Ages 14–up.
- Booklist, Starred "While the stories always startle, they also often murmur about humanity's higher inclinations, including honor, compassion, and different kinds of love."
- Horn Book Magazine, Starred "Lanagan's powerfully visceral speculative fiction is written in penetrating language and with the intensity of folktale."
PublisherRandom House Children's Books
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