Language and Length in The Glass Town Game
In THE GLASS TOWN GAME, four Bronte siblings (yes, those Brontes) travel to a magical world filled with characters and settings from the their own imaginative games. I went back and forth on this book several times while I read it, and it shows in my thoughts below:
The language is eloquent, imaginative, clever, often humorous. I can open at random to any page, a few weeks after I read the book, and feel like I’m right back in that world. At the same time, it can be overly demanding on a reader when all sentences are so packed. I struggled at first, but got used to it.
The magical elements of the story are reminiscent of E. Nesbit’s MAGIC CITY (my favorite of hers) and Edward Eager’s KNIGHT’S CASTLE (an homage to MAGIC CITY, but excellent in its own right), but Valente brings in expanded layers of complexity. Like when they learn that Anne’s doll Victoria is playing a game about a made up country called England, and it seems like the kids might be the creations, as well as (or instead of) the creators of an imagined world. On the other hand, I struggled with the way that words become real in logical, but bizarre ways. It’s sometimes fun (Ann realizes her fingers can open a locked door because they have bones, which means: skeleton key (353)). But often it seems arbitrary and too nonsensical.
The interplay between fantasy and reality becomes more complex as the story evolves, and it also gets more serious. As Charlotte says, “Our games have gone on without us and I don’t think we’re such good friends anymore” (280). But…the level of suspense is never that high. There’s never any real doubt that they’ll make it home okay, and the notion that they could use the magical grog to bring their older sisters back to life never really catches hold as a plot mover.
The children’s real world problems and challenges are affected by their experiences in the fantasy world, and that works pretty well. Bram, especially, struggles with his ideas of what a boy should be like (basically violent, selfish and jealous) and plain old decency and empathy. He develops as a character and it’s through the action of the book that it happens. But his struggles go back and forth a lot, and do get tiresome.. My notes-while-reading include several variations of: “Bran’s whining….again!”
This is a long book: 531 pages. With some good reasons. The pace, partly because of the rich language, is deliberate. Concepts are complex. The large cast of characters makes sense (because they had a lot of toys and played a lot of games), and she doesn’t skip around or simplify. Still, I do wonder what this book might be like at 431 pages. Or 331. I especially struggled with the Wildfell Ball that Emily and Charlotte attend (360-398), where there are so many characters to keep track of and just not that much happening. But I’m not always a patient reader, and I believe that patient reading is a requirement for members of her “intended potential audience.”
References to literature and history add nuances to the story that will be missed by many (most?) young readers. Ghost Cathy works fine as a character even if you don’t know WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and her perception that Emily is “half-savage and hardy and free” (439) rings true. But if you do know that she’s the character later created by Emily, that episode takes on a more powerful meaning.
In the end I would nominate this book because of the highly impressive, sustained use of language, which does so much to establish character, plot, setting, and themes. My reservations mostly lie in the ways that character, plot, and setting were overly dense and detailed, which ultimately limits the book’s potential to resonate with young readers. But then, it doesn’t have to resonate with all of them. The Newbery Manual states that we can consider a book that “is so distinguished, in so many ways, that it deserves recognition for the excellence it provides to a small but unique readership.” I’m not sure GLASS TOWN GAME reaches that “so distinguished, in so many ways” level, but I would say “distinguished, in some ways” (especially style), and that makes me want to see it discussed next to others that may present fewer flaws, but may not aim as high or shine as brightly in a single element.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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