Thursday, March 11, 2010

Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein

Ah, here it is! The book review! Of course, it started working itself out in my head while I was in the shower shortly before departing for work when I couldn't very well write anything down (as is usually the case). Nonetheless, I will now attempt to reassemble those brilliant insights for you here while I digest cake and donuts (and other assorted food groups) from the first annual national histotechnology professionals day. Catchy name - really rolls off the tongue, no? So, uh, don't forget to love your local histotech or at least learn what they heck they do and then propagandize your local young people until they grow up to be histotechs, mmkay? This is all the apparent purpose of having "histotech" day - that and to make us fat and complacent by feeding us high calorie deserts... Hm, oh what? You came for a book review not a lesson in obscure career paths and faintly disguised bitterness? All right, all right. I'll get on with it then.

Yeah, so, Raven Stole the Moon. Garth Stein. Good book.

Raven Stole the Moon is author Garth Stein's debut novel, which has since been followed by The Art of Racing in the Rain. Given the latter novel's recent impressive success, Raven Stole the Moon has been nicely repackaged and released anew by Harper. I haven't read The Art of Racing in the Rain, unfortunately, so I can't very well compare the two, but Raven Stole the Moon stands perfectly well on its own two feet (or its own 400 some pages, I should say).

The central character in Stein's new (old?) novel, is Jenna Rosen. The opening chapter of the book finds Jenna leaving a cocktail party on the second anniversary of her son's accidental death. Without planning to, Jenna finds herself driving away from her husband and their marriage and embarking on a journey to find out the truth about what really happened the couple's son, Bobby, at a would-have-been Alaskan resort. Taking refuge in her grandmother's hometown of Wrangell, Alaska, Jenna begins search for answers that proves to be none too simple as she encounters temptation in the form of an injured fisherman and as she plumbs the depths of Tlingit mythology only to find that nothing is as it seems.

I hate to say too much more lest I spoil a single thing about Raven Stole the Moon, a novel with the plot of a good thiller or even horror novel that doesn't sacrifice characters or themes to suspense. The book is very well-paced, and the mystery keeps the pages turning. Where Stein really succeeds, though, is in elevating Raven Stole the Moon over some of its horror genre counterparts by giving us a set of really well-developed multi-dimensional characters as well as exploring the deeper issues that face those characters.

It would be easy to make Jenna and her husband Robert unequivocally bad. Jenna is obviously selfish in her quest to find answers, using whoever she needs to get what she wants, plowing over the lives and needs of those around her as she pursues her goal. It's easy to hate Robert who hires a private investigator to find out what Jenna's up to and considers drugs and hookers as revenge against his wandering wife. Then, however, Stein brings out the death of the couple's son and the decimation it has wreaked upon both of them as individuals and as a couple, explores the road the two have taken to get where they are, the struggles and the misunderstandings, and ultimately the love they had, and might still have even in the aftermath of a tragedy that threatens their marriage. Suddenly, instead of seeing two rotten people made more rotten by the death of their son, we see two struggling characters who ultimately deserve our sympathy. Like the Tlingit patron saint Raven, these characters are neither good nor bad, they just are.

Raven Stole the Moon is a richly atmospheric and completely absorbing story that takes Tlingit myth and legend, mixes in a heartbreaking tragedy, and ends up with a satisfying blend of thriller and love story that will keep you turning pages until the very last question is answered.

Thanks to Sarah at Terra Communications for providing a copy for review.


  1. The reviews for this one seem to be mixed, so I'm on the fence with it. Your review is making me lean toward the "read it" side of the fence.

  2. Great review! Much better than mine. :) I found it to have elements of horror too, but not over the top.

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  4. I love The Art of Racing in the Rain, but this one not so much.

  5. Thanks for participating in the Saturday Review at Semicolon.

    If you're a poetry lover, I'd like to invite you (and your readers) to participate in the poetry survey that I'm doing. I'm looking for your ten favorite classic poems. Read more about it here.

  6. Thanks for stopping by at Lou's Pages and for commenting. I've heard about this book before, and people seem to love it. Maybe I should put it on my wish list - which is forever growing and growing :-)

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