Suddenly in the Depths of the ForestBook - 2011
In a village where, many years earlier, all the animals had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared--and the adults who were children at the time refuse to say a word about it--two children with secrets enter the forest to find the truth.
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Fairy tales appear deceptively simple, when, in fact, the reverse is true. They must work on more than one level: they must include interesting characters and a fast-paced plot to keep children interested; a moral a child can identify, and often there is a third layer - a moral lesson for adults to dig into in more detail, a take-away life lesson, for lack of a better term, to keep the story compelling enough to keep the adult reader reading.
Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest is an intricate story with many plotlines interlaced. There is the primary, surface story about an isolated mountain town in which there are no animals, insects or life forms other than plants and humans, and along with that the bullying and ridicule suffered by anyone either outside the mainstream, or anyone who does not fall in line with those who've conveniently "forgotten" how the animals went missing in the first place. At this level there is significant tension within the community as those who remember are treated as though they are defective in some basic way. And, in fact, a few of them are eccentric to the point of being grotesque, such as the wife who pushes her husband around in a baby carriage as he makes sheep sounds, remembering but not quite remembering a time when there were animals on the farms.
Next, there's the relationship between Matti and Maya, two school children who care enough to pursue the question of what happened to the animals, despite vague warnings of the evil that lurks "out there," in the forest, and the legend of a creature so evil it wisks off every life form in its path. While Matti is by far the more cautious and afraid, his friend Maya takes the lead role when a decision must be made, becoming a strong female character when it's necessary for her to lead.
And, finally, the stories of both Nimi and Nehi, the two people farthest outside the mainstream, who chose to shun the villagers altogether rather than deal with being ostracized and ridiculed. Both of them are very close to the earth, perhaps pagan, and in touch with the pulse of nature. They are, as a result, the most feared characters.
The complexity of Oz's book is impressive, the world he's created authentic to the last detail. He's managed to be concise without skimping on either plot or character. His prose, as translated by Sondra Silverston, blends well with this sort of created folklore. It is lyrical in every positive way, never slowing down the pace of the story while creating a romantic, somewhat surreal world in which the impossible is possible.
The story also comes full circle, while leaving the ending ambiguous. Do Maya and Matti find a way to bring the animals home and restore their community, or are the forces of social pressure, and denial of culpability, too strong to overcome? It is an enjoyable, deep read, satisfying for a wide age range. Very highly recommended, especially to those interested in the fairy tale or fantasy genres.
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