CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 17. . . .January 9, 2015
Dany, 15, is the son of a powerful, magical elder of the Stoons. However, this is not the prestigious position that one may think. The Stoons are an oppressed people living in the shadow of Gottika and Count Pol, its corrupt leader. The Stoons have had many of their rights taken away. They live with a strict curfew, an identifying hat, no ability to own land or weapons, and, most recently, no right to practice magic. Dany’s mother suffers from “the staring sickness”, making her incommunicative, and Dany’s father just keeps secrets from him. When young Gottika children begin to go missing and turn up murdered, the Stoons are blamed, and things get even worse. Dany becomes privy to many secrets when his father creates a Gol from Clay to protect his people, but it is Dany who must ultimately save the Stoons.
Gottika certainly has something for everyone. It is a futuristic fantasy, with some elements of historical allegory. Becker draws heavily on Jewish legend of the golem, a human-like creature brought to life from clay to protect the Jewish people from anti-Semitic attacks. Parts of Gottika are presented as graphic novel, with powerful images by Alexander Griggs-Burr. Those sections are in stark contrast to the descriptive text by Becker and work very effectively. Equally as complex is the plot. There are multiple plot lines that deal with teenage angst, oppression, mystery, sexual abuse, and family secrets. The questions that are raised throughout the book are resolved at different levels of satisfaction. I am still not completely clear about the one-child rule or the role of magic for the Stoon people. In its attempt to have something for everyone, Gottika may have taken on too much for this length of novel.
The characters were far more compelling than the story. Dany’s struggle to understand and live with the powerlessness of his community is developed throughout the book. In one scene, Dany and his father are humiliated by Count Pol’s soldiers. Dany both hopes and fears that his father will come to his defence, and he is destroyed when he realizes that his father can’t protect him. One of the most endearing characters is Moishe, the gol. Created from clay, he cannot speak, but both Becker and Griggs-Burr give him such humanity that Dany’s final decision for his sib is heartbreaking. Other characters, like Dany’s friend Beano and his cousin Dalil, are equally as interesting, but they don’t get enough of the book to flesh out their storylines.
Gottika is a compelling read. I wondered as I read it how much of my previous experience with the underlying issues in the text allowed me to engage as I did. Even with that experience, I feel like I missed things. I hope the style of the text, the strong characters, and the writing style will keep young readers engaged.
Dr. Karen Boyd is the English Language Arts and Literacy consultant with Manitoba Education and Advanced Learning.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.