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Saturday, March 13, 2010
Review: Another Faust
Title: Another Faust
Authors: Daniel and Dina Nayeri
Page Count: 400 pages
Genre: Young Adult, updated classics, cautionary tales
Copy for review compliments of the public library
50 words or less: Faust's deal with the devil gets a facelift and a modern perspective as five kids learn the hard way that everything you want is sometimes the worst thing for you.
Advance warning: I can't decide if this is a spoilery review or not, so I'm warning you ahead of time, it might be, depending on how much you know about the book already. Ye be warned.
One thing that often comes up in young adult fiction is what responsibility, if any, books and stories have for communicating lessons and morals to readers. Reading for a purpose is fine, of course, and using literature as a vehicle to teach a lesson is fine as well, but Another Faust is a case study in how writers can accomplish all that, write a really interesting story, and discuss topics that don't frequently see the light of day, all at the same time.
To begin with, Another Faust assumes a certain level of familiarity with the original Faust story. There are a lot of different versions out there, but the basic structure is the same: dissatisfied with his current situation, Faust makes a deal with the devil, giving up his immortal soul in exchange for knowledge. The original story has a deep underlying religious message, and while Another Faust doesn't really touch on that facet of the story all that much, the rest of the story elements ring true and are authentically integrated into the modern setting of the story.
Be forewarned, Another Faust is not a charming story of human triumph over adversity. Rather, it's the story of what happens when people decide to take the easy way out, to ignore the implications their actions have on other people, and to pursue goals, status and success regardless of the cost. The choice of setting for the contemporary retelling (a fancy dancy private school, complete with trust fund babies and crazed helicopter parents) is a fertile breeding ground for the kind of blatant, self-serving greed and corruption that carry over from the original story.
The five main characters- Victoria, Valentin, Christian, Belle, and Bice- all come from pretty tragic backgrounds. Neglected, abused, starved for affection, trapped in pathologically unhealthy relationships with the people who are supposed to take care of them, they all think that the grass is greener on the other side and that if they were only a little bit stronger, better, faster, whatever, then life would be great and nothing would ever be able to hurt them ever again. When a mysterious woman appears at the opportune time and basically offers them everything they ever wanted, it seems like a no-brainer to accept her deal and board the gravy train to happiness. Unfortunately for them, nothing worth having is ever free, and they're about to learn that lesson in a big and painful way.
The story in Another Faust, although based on a familiar tale, has more twists and turns than a hamster habitrail and just when you think you have things figured out, another layer gets added to the story and the whole scenario becomes a little more sick, a little more twisted. The characters are, for the most part, ignorant of the fact that in their quests to be the best, they're playing with snakes, and, unsurprisingly, they get bit.
My one issue with the book is this: there comes a point, even when you're driving home the lesson that evil is evil and that using evil means to accomplish your goals does not negate the fact that you chose those means, when enough is enough. About two-thirds of the way through the book I found myself hungering for the resolution to the story, instead of wanting more and more instances of Nicola the nanny's meddling or the kids falling prey to their own ambitions. The resolution, when it comes, is appropriate for the story and a fitting end to the tale. It does take awhile to get there though.
If you're looking for a young adult book that's on the dark side, with a touch of the paranormal, and featuring a lesson that's relevant for people of all ages, Another Faust might be right up your alley.
Overall Grade: B+