Lately, I’ve been finding it difficult to keep up with reviewing the books I’ve been reading. But far from being worried I’m glad for the pleasure I’ve found in reading them. The book I’ve just finished, not more than half an hour ago, is Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge. It’s on my TBR list for 2012 and I was thrilled to find it in a dusty corner of an old book shop in Delhi this Sunday. The book turned out to be spell binding! It’s true! I found that once I began I had such difficulty in raising my head away. I liked it even more because it reminded me of my school days. I used to be so absorbed in my books that people used to think that I was ignoring them. Actually I could neither hear them nor sense their presence nearby. Hans Brinker is the kind of book that I would normally choose to read simply for pleasure.
“Holland is one of the queerest countries under the sun. It should be called Odd-land or Contrary-land, for in nearly everything it is different from other parts of the world.” And by the way Mary Mapes Dodge continues to describe it it does make one hurry through the pages in wide-eyed wonder at this amazingly magical land that actually exists! This was another reason why I loved this book. It made me want to visit Holland though I wonder if it will be the same as it has been described in this lovely book. I hope there might be at least glimpses of resemblance in reality to what’s in the book.
Set in Holland, it is the story of a young boy, Hans Brinker, and his sister, Gretel whose family is so poor and friendless that they struggle simply to survive. And when they hear of the most talked about race in Broek in which the winner will receive a pair of silver skates they hope to join too. Unfortunately, all they have are heavy wooden skates that Hans has made on his own. Now if you’re under the impression that Hans and his sister are going to win the race anyway with their funny skates then let me stop you now and tell you that this book will not disappoint. The race, though an important part of the story isn’t the main part of the story. This book won’t disappoint. It’s story is incredibly realistic. But miracles do happen even today, don’t they?
Through the stories of the individual lives in this book, the author has weaved in stories of Holland, it’s fastidiously clean and tidy people, and the honesty and quiet courage that its people have shown through ages past. While reading the afterword it occurred to me that the author took a major risk in writing so much about Holland, it’s history, and its brave men, instead of simply focusing on the story at hand. But readers like me who are hooked to her narrative can hardly complain of this detour as long as it’s told well. And like the author, the characters in this book are also shown to take risks which eventually brings them happiness as well.
Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates is another one of those rare books that can be held as examples of what YA Fiction should really be like. Whether you would like to know more about Holland or simply enjoy good reading, this book has both.
“Take a risk that you may become more happy.” ~Mary Mapes Dodge, 1862