What if a YA novel made you think of Dostoevsky?
It seems rather unlikely, but the new YA novel, Exile, moved me to think of Dostoevsky, the Old Testament, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. (And fairy tales - as we all know - contain shadows of the Gospels, right?)
And it’s also just a good story!
Loren Warnemeude says in the Author’s Notes that she set out to write a retelling of Grimm’s fairy tale, “Maid Maleen,” but it grew into something much more. I agree. In the beginning it does feel like a fairy tale, complete with the threat of a tower/tomb, a garden, an apple tree, a threat of exile…
But somewhere along the way, the literature teacher in me quit looking for imagery and metaphors, and I was swept into the story, just enjoying the ride.
Princess Maleen is faced with an impossible choice: marry a man she doesn’t want or be exiled into a tower. She has only three days to make the choice and chooses the tower, confident that her true love Melinor will rescue her. The novel unfolds the consequences of her choices, the struggles she faces, and the unexpected growth she discovers in those struggles.
Let’s talk about why Exile makes me think of Dostoevsky, et al. It is definitely not long and heavy. Each character does not have seven names. The “horrible” father of Exile is not at all like Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. However, both stories incarnate an important idea of the Christian life: suffering can offer a chance for redemption.
Very gently, and without preaching, Loren Warnemeunde unfolds the transformation of a young woman, a transformation that seems only to have been possible through her suffering.
Many scenes of the novel reminded me of Pride and Prejudice, of how blind we can be to the true nature of people and of the beauty that comes with new sight.
Exile is set in a fantasy world, and in the same way that Tolkien and Lewis include Biblical ideas without actually putting the name of God in the story, Warnemunde’s fantasy world is a mirror of the Scriptures. Christian readers will probably recognize the veiled references to the Mighty One, and I think non-Christians would still enjoy the story without making the connection.
I highly recommend it. If you still need to buy some presents for teens (or adults) in your life, Exile is a good choice.