I grew up with dragons.
Fairy tales and Arthurian legends.
Eustace Scrubb in “The Dawn Treader.”
Smaug in “The Hobbit.”
The dragons of Pern with their riders.
The dragons of wild imagination in hours of Dungeons and Dragons games.
THE dragon of the Old English epic poem “Beowulf.”
Red dragons, blue dragons, green dragons, white and gold and silver. A plaid dragon that shot machine gun bullets. (Yup, that was the creation of a particularly devious Dungeon Master. I married that guy.)
I understand the deep meaning of dragons, the part they play in mythology, the differences between Western and Eastern dragons.
I thought I was done with dragons, that I had taken all I could from them.
Then Joshua McCune wrote “Talker 25” and teased me with the idea of kissing dragons. Which I thought, based on the blurb and the clever tie-in website, www.kissing-dragons.com, was just a euphemism for hunting them. OK, alright, could be interesting, fine, if you insist, I’ll read another dragon book.
You got me, Josh. You totally got me.
In a future that could very well be right now, dragons are living among us. In Kansas, in fact. And a bunch of teenagers sneak onto the reservation where they are living, subdued and studied by scientists, to take a Facebook selfie of themselves sitting on and kissing – actually, literally, kissing – a sleeping dragon. Melissa, the daughter of one of the chief scientists, goes along for the ride and the photo op (not the kissing) and gets in trouble with the All-Blacks, the government soldiers who wear pure black uniforms because, it turns out, dragons can’t see black.
But wait. Alarms start blaring. There’s a lock down in school and the kids flee to underground dragon-proof shelters. (OK, just ponder that for a second. That’s the head-space you’re living in in this book). Except Melissa, who stays outside to look for her younger brother Sam, who ran away on their walk to school because of Melissa’s teasing. So with Melissa, we look up at the sky when the dragons come, pursued by military fighter jets.
Now, I’ve just told you that I grew up with dragons. I’ll admit to feeling a little, “Sure, dragon battle. Seen this before. You better bring it, McCune.” Well, he brought it. This battle was like nothing I’ve ever read before, and from there, he continued to twist, undermine and confound my expectations at every turn of a page. I probably annoyed him by tweeting at him repeatedly as I read the book, because I was so startled and moved by what was happening, I couldn’t help but share my reactions with him.
Josh doesn’t go for flowery phrasing or lengthy description, so his beautiful phrases are all the more striking when they come: “Snow-dusted evergreens and sky-spearing mountains extend in every direction. The wind swirls with a brisk bite, and I can almost forget everything.” (p. 102). His words punch and jab, they soar and streak and fly. His writing is tough and visceral and pulls you along. I cried at the funeral of a character I didn’t even know; that’s how beautiful and compelling the writing was. Josh made me care about the life of a character I’d never met, and now never would, and I felt the loss. Which only made the later funerals… oh, I’m not even gonna go there.
As things go from bad to worse and the horrors mount with gut-wrenching realism, you are forced to ask yourself: where is my line in the sand? What would I do to protect my family, my sanity, the core of my very self? How does a person behave under the influence inhumane treatment of herself or those around her? How would I?
This book is harrowing but worth every minute of it. I’m counting the days ‘till the sequel comes out. That said, it’s not for everyone. I can think of a few readers I wouldn’t recommend it to: the kind of kids who don’t like to watch the news, or don’t like to stay home alone, or who have difficulty sleeping. Those kids have enough anxiety and difficulty in their lives. They don’t need fiction to add to it. Let them pass. But if your kid has ever wondered, as I did when I was a teen, what she would do if her belief system was challenged or even destroyed; if she is able to explore those issues deeply and courageously; and if she doesn’t shy away from the pain of sacrifice and suffering, then this is a book through which those issues can be explored in a powerful and complex way.
10 out of 10 stars.