Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Storytelling Book Review: The Ravenous Gown by Steffani Raff

Here are two things you need to know:
1. I am not a book blogger.
2. I don't like literary fairy tales.
I am saying these things up front so you can understand my review in context.

I saw the call for ARC reviewers for this book on Facebook, and since the author is also a storyteller I know, I decided to sign up. I received a copy of the book in PDF format. Even in its ARC form, The Ravenous Gown is a very, very pretty book.
And, much like most characters in its 15 stories, it is also a lot more than that.

The sub-title of the book promises tales about "Real Beauty." It is a very timely and much needed topic these days, with every other storytelling-related article talking about Cinderella's tiny waist. More and more people are paying attention to the representations of beauty girls (and boys) are bombarded with. But here is the thing: Storytellers, especially ones that work with kids regularly, break out in hives from "preachy" tales. I am no exception. I never end my tales with "and the moral of the story is..." If the story is not good, I don't care how important the message is.
Okay, so I am getting to the point:
These stories are good.

Steffani Raff did not just sit down to whip up some girl-empowering stories. She took to her background in folktales instead, and she did what traditional storytellers have always done: She picked the images, the symbols, and the best parts of some of her favorite folktales (she mentions them in the appendix) and wove them into new stories. They walk like folktales, they talk like folktales, and they carry many familiar images: The Hodja's hungry gown, the dancing crane-woman, mysterious portraits covered with drapes, a princess raising a dragon, a girl cutting off her heel. She doesn't go out of her way to remind us, but the story-loving mind recognizes the imagery anyway. It is expertly done, and feels comfortable.
(... like a shoe NOT made of glass...)

I liked the linguistic humor in Steffani's writing. She is a master of opening lines. My favorite was this one:
"It was the celebration of the century. She came, though uninvited, ate a cream puff, and cursed the child."
She has a subtle, almost cynical sense of humor that comes out in her word choices, and clever turns of phrases. She weaves her opinions into the stories without preaching them, and makes her point with wit. The stories don't quite read like spoken word, but that is not a problem; they do make a good read, and their eloquence is charming.

I liked some stories more than others, obviously. I adored the lanky, awkward knight-hero from Fetch Me a Star. I liked the redeeming narrative of Cinderella - Sort of. I was enchanted by he vivid imagery in The Healing Stone (and the fact that the dragon was female). The heartbreaking message of The Crane's Gift and the story of the Lost Princess almost made me sob. It is a great lineup of not only plots, but also emotions.

As a storyteller and as a reader, I approve of this book.

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