Chambers, Aidan. This Is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn. Amulet, 2008. ISBN 978-0810995505 832 pp. $10.99
The pillow book is actually more than one volume: journals of most intimate musings, modeled after a Japanese pillow book that Cordelia’s friend Izumi gives her. The premise is that motherless Cordy, nineteen and pregnant, is recording the trials and tribulations of her young adulthood, mostly concerning her first lover, Will, and plans to give the book to her daughter when she turns sixteen, so they can share them. The books are incredibly thoughtful; a poet wannabe, Cordy’s voice is that of a gifted writer and even her prose (or, Chambers’ prose) has rhythm and symbolism and entendres and cadence. The British setting doesn’t limit the audience; no glossary is needed. I never had any doubt of the character’s authenticity, and Chambers deserves a medal for poking around the territory of female puberty so believably and frankly as a male author.
Book one is mostly concerned with the chase after the boy, much of the rest of the book is how to keep him, and how to cope when he’s gone, but Cordelia addresses issues of family, other relationships, loss, and more. A dense 800 pages, there are only two troublesome spots: in one book, the story splits into two, and you have to read all of the odd pages, then all of the even pages in the section for the story to make sense, and in a later book, a kidnapping is a slightly outlandish plot device to bring the estranged star-crossed lovers back together. Still, the voice rings true, and the supporting characters are interesting and lushly drawn. It’s not for all readers, but I can think of many girls who will delight in the opportunity to wallow for a while in the depths of this tome.
Chambers has said he believes life imitates art–that young readers look to their literature to discover how to BE–and Cordy is a model for supportive adult role models and mentors, planning and decision making, even reading for pleasure (she loves Shakespeare, whom she affectionately calls Shakes). A very strong character driven novel, this is the best book I’ve read this year, and a fine contribution to the canon of YA literature for it’s style, content, and character study.
Review by Beth Gallaway