Commentary: “The Raven Boys” and “The Dream Thieves” by Maggie Stiefvater

Raven BoysFor years, I’ve seen students bring in Maggie Stiefvater’s books, from her Shiver series to The Scorpio Races, but I’ve never read any of her books. Since I’m teaching 9th grade next year instead of seniors, I thought that maybe I should catch up on my young adult book list, starting with Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys series.

After reading the first two in the series, I’m really looking forward to reading the last two. (Yeah, I’ve already read the last part of the last book. I had to know, you know? It’s a compulsion that does not affect my reading the entire series! I’m a spoiler girl!)

Any-whooo, let’s look at The Raven Boys first. Blue Sargent is a very practical teen, emanating partially from the fact that she is a non-psychic in a houseful of women psychics, including her mother, and partially from the fact that they have all told her one thing her whole life: “If Blue was to kiss her true love, he would die.”

So she’s very sensibly developed two rules regarding boys: “One, stay away from boys, because they were trouble. And two, stay away from Aglionby boys, because they were bastards.” You see, Blue lives in Henrietta, where Aglionby Academy, a boys’ prep school for the wealthy and elite, is located, and she thinks the boys who go there are arrogant and unworthy, obviously. Her vow to stay away from them has been unbreakable until St. Mark’s Night, a night where those who will die within the year walk a mystical energy line. On this night, she sees the ghost of an Aglionby boy, unusual in the fact that Blue never sees the ghosts of the dead, merely powers up psychics who can see them. (She’s like an electrical current for psychics and the supernatural.) His name? Ganey. Why can she see him? According to one of the psychics, it’s because he’s either “her true love” or she “kills him.” Ominous, huh?

And here’s the introduction to the raven boys, so dubbed by their school uniform, which displays a raven on their sweaters. Ganey, the leader of his little crew, is obsessed with the supernatural, looking for mystical energy lines in Henrietta to lead him to the ancient burial grounds of Glendower, a mystical being who if discovered, is said to grant one wish to the one who finds him. His friends help him with his search–the angry, resentful Ronan who has known Ganey for years, the problem solving Adam who is from Henrietta himself and goes to Aglionby on scholarship, and the mysterious Noah who tries to go unnoticed.

Blue’s introduction to these Aglionby boys does not go well, not surprisingly. Blue’s what you might call prickly in her demeanor, and Ganey, well, he’s rather used to his money and his charm working for him. Needless to say, the combination of money and charm really does not impress the somewhat cynical Blue. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t recognize Ganey as her ghost since the ghost’s features were indistinguishable. When the boys go to a reading at her house, she finds out his name and realizes that this is the boy who will be dead within the year. The one that will be her true love or the one she will kill.

This is not a comfort to her, especially since her mother forbids her to see these boys again. But she’s a typical teenager, and you know how that goes.

So, let me be clear. This is not one of those teen romances with the ostensible supernatural plot. This is really a story about friendship. These boys have a tight knit one, and Blue becomes one of them. Adam’s the one who brings her into the group, as she tries to avoid Ganey, for obvious reasons, and Ronan, who’s kind of an a-hole most of the time. Once she comes into the group, she and Noah also have a connection, as well. But it’s not about them dating or all of them constantly wondering who she will choose. (I hate those type of YA books, actually.) It’s about them merging Ganey’s quest with Blue’s attempt to prevent Ganey’s death from coming true. It’s about them being friends and about what they are willing to do for one another. (Quite a lot.) It’s also about the conflicts that all friendships have, whether it’s trying to change someone into the person you think he/she should be or someone trying to maintain his/her independence and identity within a close-knit group like this one. And it’s about how the characters define themselves by their experiences (most have some terrible events in their pasts) and who they’re trying to become.

This is told in third person, largely from Blue’s, Adam’s or Ganey’s perspective. Oh, and the bad guy, which was different and gives us insights into the history of the mystical in Henrietta. I don’t think you get very much from Ronan’s perspective in this one, probably because the next book, The Dream Thieves, is really his book, told mainly from his perspective, although there are some chapters in The Dream Thieves that show the conflicts that emerged in The Raven Boys between Adam, Ganey, and Blue.

So, now let’s talk about The Dream Thieves. This is really a background information book. (SPOILER: While Ganey has no supernatural abilities, his friends do.) Stiefvater focuses on Ronan’s mystical background, while incorporating Adam’s supernatural abilities as well. Not much is added to the whole Glendower plot or the whole Ganey’s eventual death plot, which I think makes this book less necessary than the first, but it’s interesting in finding out more about Ronan and Adam and their conflicts with Ganey’s sometimes overwhelming personality. I mean, how would you feel if you were friends with someone who could command the room in an instant? Ronan doesn’t seem to mind; he has other problems with Ganey. But Adam seems to constantly struggle with his desire to be his own person without Ganey overpowering his personality. While rage is definitely Ronan’s vice, envy is Adam’s , definitely, but he has had a more difficult life than Ganey or Ronan. Hopefully, Adam’s insecurities will be worked out and settled by the last book.

I don’t want to give too much away that will ruin the books for those who don’t like spoilers as much as I do. But I will say by the end of the second book, The Dream Thieves, I was definitely shipping two different couples (possibly three, if I count Blue’s mom’s love interest!) than I was in book one, The Raven Boys. Oh, yeah, I was! I loved the gradual way Stiefvater brings about the romance, while not focusing on it too much.

I will also say this: I enjoyed The Raven Boys way more than I did The Dream Thieves. I gave The Raven Boys four stars on Goodreads, but three stars for The Dream Thieves, for the reasons I stated earlier. Dream just doesn’t advance the Glendower or mystical energy plot, and it also doesn’t do much with the whole Ganey’s death thing, either. Plus, there were weirdish villains in Kavinsky and the Gray Man, a character whom I liked waaay better than Kavinsky. (Kavinisky sucked! And I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to like the Gray Man, despite his, ummm, professional proclivity.) But I liked getting the background about Ronan and more on Adam, to whom, really, I just want to give a big reassuring hug.

Raven KingSo, who’s my favorite character? Adam! I love Adam because his seems to be a magnet for struggles outside of his control, but he always seems to grasp onto what power in those situations he can and come out better for it, in my opinion, although he’s often conflicted afterward. He struggles to be his own person and tries to overcome his substantially terrible circumstances that would totally defeat other people. Love him! (People like Ronan more, I’ve found, but this is totally baffling to me!)

Anyway, I will definitely be finishing the rest of the series soon, which includes Blue Lily, Lily Blue, then The Raven King.

Until next time, hope you decide to enjoy the Aglionby boys, Blue, and the mystical town of Henrietta!

Ta-ta,

HMichaele

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