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The Changeling

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Among my favorite books as a kid were a few by Zilpha Keatley Snyder: Black and Blue Magic; The Egypt Game; the Green Sky trilogy. (Though I didn't like the ending of the trilogy.)

I saw a bunch of her other books on my library bookshelves, but somehow I never read them. I'm not sure why. Maybe the covers or the titles didn't appeal to me? I certainly knew that she was the same author who'd written the abovelisted books I'd loved, but that wasn't enough to get me to read her others.

In early October, Ms. Snyder died, age 87, after a stroke. I was sad to hear it, but I was pleased to read that she was happy that all of her books were currently in print, including many in ebook editions.

So I bought some ebooks.

I bought ebook copies of the ones I'd loved—I have them in paperback too (including the copy of Black and Blue Magic that I've owned since I was a kid), but it's nice to have them handy anytime I want them. But I haven't re-read those, at least not yet. Instead, I also bought one that a friend mentioned having liked: Eyes in the Fishbowl, one of the ones I had seen many times as a kid but never read.

I'm sorry to say that it didn't do much for me. I don't know whether I would've liked it as a kid or not, but reading it now as an adult, I felt it was a little too predictable. It had some interesting class stuff going on, sort of in the background, but mostly not my cup of tea.

But another friend mentioned The Changeling, another one I'd seen on the shelves as a kid, so I gave that a try. And not only did I like it quite a bit, this is one of the few kids' books that I've read for the first time as an adult that I specifically think would've meant a lot to me as a kid.

There are plenty of kids' books that I liked as a kid but that don't hold up to grownup reading; and there are several kids' books that I've liked as an adult that I don't know if I would've appreciated if I'd encountered them as a kid. (Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes comes to mind in that latter category.) And there are books that I've read as an adult that didn't really work for me, but that I might've liked if I'd read them at the right age.

But The Changeling has all sorts of good stuff in it for adult readers—about friendship, about being an outsider, about figuring out who you are, about LARPing (okay, fine, about storytelling/let's-pretend games), about social class and the “Not Our Kind, Dear” thing, about escapism, and more. And although I think I would've been oblivious to some of that stuff if I'd read it as a kid, I think a lot of it would've really spoken to me.

At least, it would've if I could've gotten past the lack of overt/explicit magic. I loved fantasy books, but I hated books that looked like they were going to be fantasy but turned out not to be. In this book, the magic is kind of like the magic in Jo Walton's Among Others—it might or might not be real, it operates through mundane effects, it would be easy to read it as not magic at all. Which appeals to me now, but didn't so much when I was a kid; I wanted magic to be magical. And there were very few non-sf books that I really liked. But there were a few, and I think if I'd gone into this one with the right expectations, I would've liked it then at least as much as I like it now, which is quite a bit.

...It's not perfect, of course. For example, I think that there are a couple of lines in the last chapter that slightly undermine Snyder's important points about figuring out who you are; and there are a couple of mildly fatphobic lines in various parts of the book. But I can forgive those; overall, I think the book does a bunch of things really well, and both of the main characters appeal to me a great deal. Good stuff.

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