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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