Review: Not Ordinarily Borrowable or, Unwelcome Advice by Thomas Thurman

Friends, we here at Feministe are all lovers of books, particularly books about women going out in the world, and into themselves. That’s why it was such a pleasure to receive a review copy of such a book written by one of our own readers. That book is Not Ordinarily Borrowable or, Unwelcome Advice, a work of middle grade fiction by Thomas Thurman. There’s a whole review below the cut, but the general point of it is: I don’t care how old you are; if you can, go and read this book at once!

It’s the story of Maria, who is a scholar. One day, she goes to the library to borrow the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth for her thesis. Alas, as the librarian tells Maria, the books “were borrowed this morning. Quite forcibly. By a dragon.” Maria has, of course, been working quite hard on her thesis, and won’t stand for this. She excuses herself to her supervisor, asks her housemates to feed her cats, and sets off to ask if the dragon is finished with the books yet.

Yes, it’s a story directed at young people featuring a clever, polite, and brave heroine, a mix of fantasy and fabulous women and academia. Kind of perfect, no?

Not Ordinarily Borrowable is cute, and charming, and, from the first paragraph, put a grin on my face that kept coming back (my cheeks were hurting, let me tell you). (Especially as I read it in one sitting, because it was just that good, and then even upon finishing couldn’t quite let it go, and so had to write this review immediately.) Thomas’ skill as a writer is evident right from the first page: he writes in a style that’s simultaneously easy for young readers to understand and very sophisticated. There is a kind of respect in that such as you don’t often see in writing geared to younger people, or at least not as often as I should like. The narrator talks directly to readers a lot, particularly towards the start. I am a great fan of drawing attention to the textual nature of a text, and it’s done really well here.

Maria very politely deals with those she meets along the way who think she shouldn’t be dealing with dragons because she’s a young woman, like this guy:

‘I would not suggest that a young lady like you should go hunting dragons on your own,” said the policeman severely. “Stay here in Royston. Get married and start a family. Be a credit to society.”

And then she meets people who are very encouraging indeed, such as a woman priest who is just delightful, and Jennifer. Jennifer is a cook who has had a cookbook stolen by a dragon, so she accompanies Maria for the rest of her journey. They develop a very respectful friendship, which endeared both of them to me even more.

Not Ordinarily Borrowable is about learning new things, and there being an awful lot of ideas and things in the world waiting to be discovered. It’s therefore exactly the kind of book I would recommend to a young reader. Also, there’s a recipe at the end. You can’t lose, really.

This book soothed my heart, and I’m going to be thinking about it for a while.

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14 comments for “Review: Not Ordinarily Borrowable or, Unwelcome Advice by Thomas Thurman

  1. Bushfire
    January 22, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    That sounds beautiful.

  2. Nyx
    January 22, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Sounds like I need to get to the library and check this out! Hopefully no dragons have gotten there first, though, because it is much too cold for adventuring right now.

  3. January 22, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    I must second the recommendation. It’s excellent—both as the book that I longed for as a middle-schooler, and as a book that delighted me as an adult.

  4. January 22, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Just added this to my cart. Especially since I love books with dragons. I remember being all over Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

  5. January 23, 2011 at 1:05 am

    Noted in my diary, so I can track it down for the benefit of my Ms Twelve, who is always looking for new books to read. (Also for my own benefit.)

  6. Sheelzebub
    January 23, 2011 at 8:23 am

    That sounds awesome.

  7. January 23, 2011 at 9:14 am

    I still read books to my daughter (she’s eleven. she still digs the hamming-it-up we do with the characters). I can’t wait to hear the reaction she’ll have to the “get married, start a family, be a credit to society comment”. Whatever it is, it’ll be loud.

  8. PrettyAmiable
    January 23, 2011 at 9:37 am

    I kind of love fiction aimed at younger crowds. My friend’s brother took a children’s lit class at our university, and because of his reading, we all ended up becoming addicts to The Sisters Grimm series. (Short review: two heroines! problematic execution of feminism).

    I’ll put this on my list!

  9. isitisabel
    January 23, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Nahida: Just added this to my cart. Especially since I love books with dragons. I remember being all over Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles.  

    Another amazingly feminist series about a strong, smart girl heroine who runs away, becomes a dragon’s princess by choice, refuses to be “rescued” and saves the day with her wits. Not only does Cimorene kick ass, Wrede’s other female characters are also forces to be reckoned with. I remember reading the series as a kid (full disclosure: I still reread it now occasionally) and thinking “wow, being a girl is awesome!”

  10. Tim
    January 23, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    As a librarian, I’m a little queasy about the apparent violation of borrower confidentiality that sets Maria of in the direction of the dragon. Otherwise, it sounds quite intriguing. Maybe the word “forcibly” indicates that the dragon just took the books without properly checking them out, which might mitigate the librarian giving out the information. Anyway, there is a Twilight-smitten 14-yo girl of my acquaintance I might like to see read this book, but I don’t want to ruin it by suggesting it might be “good.” Any ideas on ways to “suggest” a book more subtly?

  11. Amanda
    January 23, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Thanks for the recommendation – you forgot to mention the best part, it’s 1.99 for the Kindle edition on Amazon! I’d also recommend the Phillip Pulman series His Dark Materials. It’s tough reading, but the women and girls in the series are pretty amazing. Don’t be dissuaded by the mediocre Golden Compass movie, the books are better. They are fairly questioning of the Judeo-Christian God, so if you have a problem with that, I wouldn’t recommend it.

  12. Paraxeni
    January 24, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    @Amanda – I felt like I’d lost something after finishing the HDM trilogy. It was like Lyra had somehow left me! I used to feel the same way when I was a kid, almost grieving after finishing long books.

    The film was unspeakably horrid.

  13. Baerana
    January 25, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    My boyfriend and I took turns reading this aloud to our step-son (9) and we all 3 loved it! The writing is just beautiful, the development of the friendship is extraordinary, and I just LOVED Maria – being a big book geek, it was great to see a strong female scholar character, something I rarely, if ever, saw when I was my step-son’s age. Feminism, strong female friendship, heroism, book lovers, dragons, all put together with truly beautiful writing, what more could you ask for? And the cherry on the icing on the cake? 2 bucks for the kindle!

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