Available at: http://www.amazon.com/The-Cricket-ebook/dp/B005784DG2/
Genre: Modern-day fantasy, but of a literary sort
Length: 88K words
Words per penny: 294
Plot: Hanna, a young woman who has fled Iraq and then her own family, finds a mysterious not-quite-corpse washed up on the beaches of Delaware. She drags him back to the abandoned warehouse she's squatting in, nurses him back to health, and begins to learn just how strange a being the sea has thrown upon her shores.
They spend a long and peaceful summer by the ocean, but Hanna's desire to understand the nature of her new companion (Corus) leads her to seek out her father, a Middle Eastern scholar who has been living on the streets. After great struggle and sacrifice, they find him, and Corus inadvertently uses his limited powers to show them something [no spoiler] that leads Hanna and Corvus to infiltrate a shadowy nation-within-a-nation called The Heart.
I want to hug this book. Is that weird? Yes. Yes it is.
The Cricket is a small, quiet gem of a book that starts out beautiful and touching and maintains a tone of sweet innocence throughout. It manages to hang onto that tone even through the second quarter of the book, where they're living on the streets as they try and find Hanna's father. Without ever losing hope, the author does a pretty authentic job of showing just how difficult being homeless can be. From the way he describes both the mechanics of the day-to-day struggle and the sense of alienation that is part and parcel of a homeless life, I got the sense that he's either worked closely with the homeless or been homeless himself.
Hanna and Corus are two lonely people (though Corus is both more and less than a person) who find strength and comfort in each other. Their relationship drifts so slowly and seamlessly from friendship to romance that it's hard to pinpoint exactly when they fall in love -- a task made more difficult by the way they use "her fiancee" and "her husband" as a cover story.
Though Corus is not human and has limited powers, it wasn't until the existence of The Heart is revealed that you realize how different this book's world is from our own. The Heart is kind of a mishmash of liberal conspiracy theories: a shadow nation embedded in the heart of our own, a prison camp where suspected terrorists are tortured and experimented upon, and a fundamentalist Christian utopia all in one. The whole effect is a little surreal and hard to believe, even for someone as politically cynical as I am.
At this point in the book, I got the sense that the book was about to go off the rails. Not wanting to see the wreck, I put it down for a few days. But when I came back to it, all was mended. They infiltrate The Heart, and it is appropriately menacing and horrifying. The effect is blunted by the fact that we see it through the eyes of Corus, who doesn't truly understand the world or the horrors of it, and who can treat even the leftover skeletons of a war crime as though they were living things in their own right, worthy of friendly respect. The effect is indeed strange, but I appreciated it.
This book is fascinating to me. The language is warm and engaging. The dialogue is occasionally too formal, but seems to fit perfectly when Hanna and Corvus are spending time in solitude. The plot is simple, patterned after an epic quest. While there is a noticeable lack of tension to many parts of the book, the overall effect is not tedium, but a sort of quiet peace where the ordinary moments of life are elevated to something meaningful.
I strongly encourage you to read the sample on Amazon. If you like it that far, I'm sure you'll like the whole thing. This is exactly the sort of book I set out to find.