Jane Yolen’s Alta books

So when I was about thirteen, I thought these books, Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna were just about the best thing in the entire world.  I got them from the library after my sister gave me Dragon’s Blood for my birthday, and then I wanted to get more Jane Yolen books, and seriously, I totally loved them.  My sister made me a white sweatshirt that said Jo-an-enna in black letters, and she had a black sweatshirt that said Skada in white letters, and that’s how much I loved those books.

They are all about a girl called Jenna who lives in a Hame, a place for women – often abandoned as children – who believe in the goddess Alta.  Jenna, who has had three mothers and been orphaned thrice, is believed by some to be the prophesied queen, the Anna, who will bring about some unspecified but very important change.  Jenna is not in love with this idea.  It makes her life harder, poor little sausage.  But she carries on, defeating the appropriate foes as the prophecy suggests, and falling madly in love with a king’s son, and calling forth her dark sister, Skada, who appears at her side in the night-time, only when there is light to cast a shadow.

Anyway I just reread them, to see, and these are still quite good books.  Jane Yolen does a thing that I love, which is that she has the story itself, and then she quotes bits from the Book of Alta, and then she has bits that are legends, and you can see how these folk tales have grown out of different parts of Jenna’s story, and then she has excerpts from what she calls “The History”, which is a scholarly study of the events of the book, from a distance of many years, and it gets everything completely wrong and makes fun of the scholar Magon who is coming close to getting things right.  This is fun.  Oh, and she has songs also, which like the folk tales have grown out of the events of the story we’re reading.

In bits maybe it takes itself a smidge too seriously?  But mainly it’s an excellent story.  Jenna’s world, particularly the bits with the sisters in the Hames, is very well imagined, with lots of good details around the dark sisters and just the way the Hames function generally.  I wouldn’t have minded having more bits set in the Hames, seeing how the sisters get on with their everyday lives after they are adults, but that’s just my preference.

Also, I miss Maine.  We used to go on vacation there every summer when I was a kid, and there was (still is!) this bookshop in Wells, where we stayed, called Annie’s Book Stop, and it was great.  That’s where I got my copies of Sister Light, Sister Dark, and White Jenna.  It was a damn exciting day.  And I miss Maine.  All with the bookshops we would go to that were used, and Fun-O-Rama, and we would go to this excellent restaurant called Allison’s in Kennebunkport and we would sing “Alice’s Restaurant” only we’d call it “Allison’s Restaurant”, and the beach was all nice and the water was all cold.  That was nice.

Let me know if you’ve read these and I will link to you!  🙂

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5 thoughts on “Jane Yolen’s Alta books

  1. Ah! I’m so glad to read this review because I just wrote one about a Yolen book that totally let me down, and it made me feel awful. I always saw this series on the shelf when I was younger and never picked it up. Now you’ve convinced me to try her again… though maybe not today.

    • I just hate it when you reread a beloved book and find it doesn’t live up to your memory. Hopefully you won’t have to swear off Yolen forever. 🙂

  2. I read these quite a few years ago, and I have vague memories of the plot (most of which came back as I read your post). I do remember enjoying them, though, and I’m glad your reread was a positive one. It’s always such a disappointment when childhood books don’t hold up years later. Yolen is pretty dependable, though!

    • I remember finding The Devil’s Arithmetic really upsetting, but mostly I liked the books I read by her. My sister and I wrote her a letter after we read the Alta books – it was one of maybe two letters I wrote to authors when I was young, and she wrote back promptly and told us all kinds of nice things. So I feel kindly towards Jane Yolen.

  3. Pingback: The Literary Horizon: Sister Light, Sister Dark, Spellwright « The Literary Omnivore

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