New Reviews For Down From And Mountain

Thanks to the wonderful people at Snuggly including Brendan Connell, Down From garnered a lovely pre-release review from Publisher’s Weekly. You can read it here, although I have also pasted it below. It’s so spot-on it’s almost uncanny.

Pflug’s haunting novella is as oblique and slippery as its protagonist, Sandrine, a traveler between worlds who is first encountered returning from “astral adventures” that have left her disoriented and uncertain: her husband may be named Randy, Mike, or River, and she has either two or three children. (“Don’t forget you have a girl,” she reminds herself; “girls don’t like that, not at all.”) Sandrine worries about environmental damage and the politics of food, tries to recenter herself with her family, and confronts the unexpected ways in which the secrets and struggles of her best friend, Vienna, intersect with Sandrine’s own. Pflug’s prose is deceptively direct: much is stated but still more is hinted at in a setting where witches and telepaths are as much a fact of life as cell phones, and behind the bluntness of Sandrine’s inner monologue are startling depths of grief and loss. The work feels unfinished, but in the way a poem might: the narrative denouement leaves the door open for the reader’s own thoughts.

Mountain has a new review from Cascadia Subduction Zone. The review is in the current issue, Vol. 8 No. 1 2018. You can find out more about Cascadia Subduction Zone here. The review is behind a paywall, although it may become a free read as time passes. The e-version is only $3.00, and I really do encourage folks to support this important US platform for feminist criticism in SFFH.

Mountain has also had great new reviews from library journals. These are particularly useful, because with YA, you really do want to get it into school libraries. The CM Association’s review site is hosted at the University of Manitoba, and you can read the amazing review here.

Ursula Pflug’s YA novel Mountain is a quick and enjoyable read that offers a wonderful distraction from screen time, unless you are reading the ebook format.

Many young adult readers will be able to relate to Camden’s dual life as she shares her time between the very different worlds of her father and her mother; but, perhaps few will experience the extreme differences in values and lifestyle between the two households. Camden’s father is a musician and provides her with an above average lifestyle with resources for hanging out with friends and shopping at the mall. Her mother is much more cash-strapped and has a no frills lifestyle. Both parents are committed to their careers and perhaps naïve to how this focus has left their daughter vulnerable in both these circumstances.

The reader is given the sense that Camden’s current adventure is simply another in a life long pattern. When Camden is in her mother’s custody, she ends up being abandoned at a healing camp on a mountain in the middle of nowhere North California. Although she is surrounded by many, she must dig deep both physically and emotionally to look after herself while waiting for her mother’s return. As time passes and Camden’s circumstances deteriorate, all attempts to contact her father in Toronto for backup fail. The absence of both parents creates the adventure of Camden’s story on the mountain.

I highly recommend this book because many young adults can relate to the dual life of sharing their time between co parenting households and the challenges this can create. This story takes the reader on a journey they will hopefully never have to live but makes them think. Mountain would be a good addition to public and school libraries as a powerful adventure and a coming of age story with a strong female protagonist.

The following review by Lesley Little appeared in the February 2018 issue of Resource Links – connecting classrooms, libraries, and Canadian learning resources. It’s also a key venue for YA reviews.

While the basic premise of this book is self-reliance, the communication of this premise is not so easily accomplished. Author Ursula Pflug’s established edgy style seems to confuse rather than enlighten the reading of this enigmatic tale of 16 year-old Amethyst who is brought to a post-hippie healing camp on a mountainside in northern California. Amethyst calls herself Camden and has to spend the summer with her nomadic mother because her musician father is working on a recording album. Camden’s mother is an off-grid techno geek who sets up portable power stations, water purifiers, and satellite link-ups at gatherings like the one in northern California. Camden is unimpressed with her mother’s accomplishments and even less impressed when her mother fails to return from a trip to San Francisco, ostensibly to meet with a former lover who Camden says molested her.

All of this is told in an oblique narrative supposedly from Camden’s point of view but it doesn’t really work until half-way through the book when Camden decides to occupy her time by gathering stories from the healing camp participants. After Camden self-identifies as a story-teller, the book begins to work and so does her sense of character. The reader is also more fully aware of the continuing underground lifestyle that has, for at least two generations, hidden in the woods.

It is the juxtaposition of Camden’s developing independence and the chronicle of the healing camp that give the story its singular point of view. Camden finds more than just herself while waiting for her mother and Skinny, the ageless and almost sexless male who is her sort-of mentor at the camp who gives her the time and space to question what is universally important as opposed to what is simply pertinent to the situation.

Camden’s mother never returns. Much later, it is determined she was murdered by the lover who molested Camden. The menace of sexual predation is an underlying theme here; it impacts the majority of the people Camden meets. In two of the stories that Camden provides, young women are constantly navigating all manner of predation either through alliances or avoidance but it is always part of any decision they make. Camden has the luxury of telling her mother, even though she initially feels her mother doesn’t believe her. Skinny, too, has been traumatized by predatory sex to the point where he avoids it altogether, much to Camden’s chagrin.

What Camden learns from Skinny is how much her mother did love her and that wholeness is just that.

She returns to Toronto – on her own – and re-establishes her life on more balanced terms, using her independence to pursue studies online and passing the lessons learned from the mountain healing camp on to her peers. She also reconnects with her father more as a casual friend than a parent, and without bitterness. She has learned to let it go.

This is Ursula Pflug’s first YA novel. She is an award-winning short story writer, speculative fiction author, and editor.

The review is in the Feb 2018 issue of Resource Links. You can find out more about the magazine here.

I appeared on, organized or co-organized so many panels in southern Ontario cities last year that I’m planning to hold back on the touring this year and catch up on some important personal projects. But winter wears on one and I may want to get out into the world for conversation about reading and writing sooner than I think. If I do that I’ll try to post the events here and elsewhere. Follow me on twitter @ursulapflug Happy spring everyone!

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