From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

The Yggysey by Daniel Pinkwater

Reviewed by Rich Horton

Daniel Pinkwater has written a raft of enjoyable Young Adult books, some of them merely charming, some works of genius. Notable examples are Young Adult Novel and Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars. His novels often are fantastical (or even science-fictional) in nature, and whatever the “genre” of the main idea, the characters tend to be eccentric and intelligent and to inhabit curious milieus.

His latest book, The Yggysey, is a good example of this last. It is a sequel to The Neddiad, but can be read on its own. Yggdrasil Birnbaum is a girl living in a hotel in Hollywood. Her father is an old-time cowboy movie star, and “the handsomest man alive”. Her mother is a psychiatrist. She attends the “modern, progressive, and advanced” Harmonious Reality School, at which you can do “pretty much whatever you want”, but her best friends go to a military school, with much stricter rules. They frequent places like Clifton’s Cafeteria, which has a waterfall in the middle and which charges whatever you want to pay them. So all this is strange enough. But this is a fantasy novel—the Hermione is inhabited by quite a number of ghosts (including Rudolph Valentino and a bunny named Chase).

The story turns on Iggy’s attempts to find out what has happened to all the ghosts, who have suddenly disappeared. This involves first some wandering around LA then some wandering into a completely different plane of existence. Iggy is accompanied by her friends Neddie Wentworthstein and Seamus Finn, and she meets plenty of other amusing people, including the ghost-hunting graduate student Ken Ahara, her own missing uncle, and a revolutionary boy named Viknik. In the end the plot is more or less incidental. (After all, the book’s apparent model, The Odyssey, is famously a travelogue.) The point is the amusing encounters Iggy and her pals have and the deadpan voice in which these quite strange events are narrated. It’s not quite one of Pinkwater’s best books, but it is charming, interesting, and often quite funny.

Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey ranks as this reviewer’s favorite YA of 2009, but The Yggyssey and Kage Baker’s The Hotel Under the Sand are definitely runners-up.

The Yggyssey: How Iggy Wondered What Happened to All the Ghosts, Found Out Where They Went, and Went There
Daniel Pinkwater
Houghton Mifflin
$16 | hc | 245 pages
ISBN: 978-0-618-59445-0

Books Mentioned in This Review:

The Hotel Under the Sand by Kage Baker

Sacred Scars (A Resurrection of Magic, Book 2)by Kathleen Duey

The Neddiad: How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and Saved Civilization by Daniel Pinkwater

5 Novels: Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars; Slaves of Spiegel; The Last Guru; Young Adult Novel; The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death by Daniel Pinkwater

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