Wendy Townsend's Lizard Love is an exceptional novel, I fell utterly in love with it as I read it this weekend. Colleen Mondor reviewed it a month or two ago for Bookslut, and I knew at once that I had to get it. It more than lived up to my expectations--it's a modest and understated but beautifully well-written and moving coming-of-age story about a girl who loves lizards.
(It is not in a literal sense my story, I am fond of lizards and snakes also but I think that as a child I was especially captivated by furry creatures; I strongly identified with the main character, though, and remembered myself in second and third grade as an intensely devoted member of the early-morning Animal Care Club in the lower-school science room...)
Not a lot happens in this book, in terms of plot, but the beauty and aptness of the descriptive language and the emotional force of the connections the novel makes are both remarkable. I hope it makes the nomination lists for the big children's book prizes, it deserves the most widespread attention and praise...
Here is a passage I particularly liked (Spot is the narrator Grace's much-loved iguana, and both of them are suffering from the onset of sexual maturity):
After school I went home to see Spot. I climbed the ladder and sat down in front of his cage. From his branch he watched me with wide-open eyes, as if I was the enemy. His dewlap was pushed out as far as it would go. A bruise ringed his nose from when he'd tried to force it through the chicken wire. I felt terrible--he was hurting and he wanted out so bad.I must also single out the cover design as one of my all-time favorites! And now that I have read it, I am going to send it to Wendy, who lost a dear companion last year.
I held blueberries in my hand. His gold lizard eye followed my other hand as I opened the cage door. The round black pupil dilated. I reached in cautiously--his teeth were sharp. He bobbed his head some more, ignoring the berries. I put them in his dish, then slowly reached up and put my hand on him. His jowls swelled under my touch. He turned his head, tongue-flicking my skin again and again, and then he opened his jaws and leaned toward my hand. I pulled away and shut the cage door. He had slept beside me every night for so long. My throat closed up. I looked at him with tears running down my face, and he bobbed his head at me furiously.
Spot's teeth had cut into my leg like knives the night before. I tried to pry him off, but his claws dug in and his scales scraped my skin raw. When he finally let go I threw back the sheet. In gray morning light I saw that the scales had turned orange around his head and shoulders. His eyes were wild and wide open, and he stood with his tail arched. He licked blood from his lips, making the soft clicking sound he always made when he cleaned his teeth.
Pressing a sock against the bite, I hurried to the bathroom to splash peroxide on the V-shaped wounds. Pink bubbly streaks ran down my leg. In the mirror I saw my body with its swellings and blemishes and dark hair beginning to grow in places. That was when I saw the other blood.
(There has been very upsetting iguana news recently--do not click on that link unless you want to make yourself sick with despair about human nature and the fragility of some of the most beautiful members of the animal kingdom!)
In the Light Reading alternate universe, about 65% of all novels are narrated by hard-boiled and intelligent female protagonists with loose crime or SF genre affiliations, so I was very much pleased with James Alan Gardner's Expendable. (Recommendation courtesy of Brent.) It's science fiction, but it works as a young-adult novel too. And as a bonus, it has an egg collection--for no good reason, it has been egg season round here recently!