book review: the first book of calamity leek

The First Book of Calamity LeekThe First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve never read anything like this!

This crazy book started off with a super-confusing first chapter, during which I had absolutely no idea what I was reading. The blurb about this book (the “Calamity Leek needs to write her own book” one) did not prepare me for what I was getting into. My first thoughts were: huh? wha-whaat? what am I reading? what is going on??

Once I got over my initial absolute confusion, things just kept getting better.

This book is about perspective. It’s about worldviews, and how we create them. It’s about how we understand the world around us, restricted though our experience may be. It’s about storytelling, and discovery, and I loved it.

So, on to the story. I don’t want to give away too much (much of the enjoyment of this book is discovering everything as you go), so I’ll just say that our narrator, Calamity Leek, has been raised in a strange, secluded, unusual environment. At first when reading, you think that you’re reading the ramblings of a crazy girl, but gradually you begin to read between the lines, and form a picture of Calamity’s environment. She lives with numerous sisters and their Auntie. She has a book – The Appendix – which basically is the go-to source of information about everything in their small world. We get to hear excerpts from The Appendix, particularly the Story of Creation (which is told early on and which really clears up a lot of the confusion of the beginning chapters).

The beauty of this book lies in the elaborate world that Calamity has created. She is so completely immersed in this world that the Outside World is a mysterious, dangerous place. Interestingly, we also get chapters of the book which occur “after” the main story. The perspective we get in these “after” chapters really adds to the mystery that builds throughout the book. If it had just been a continuous story without the “after” chapters, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much. But it was those chapters that first led me to suspect that something about Calamity’s world wasn’t quite right.

We follow the story of the sisters in The Garden until it meets up with those later chapters, and eventually the entire mystery becomes clear.
[The girls were kidnapped, some when they were just babies, and have been living in isolation in this farm in Wales, not ever having experienced the “real world” outside. All that they know, they “learned” from Auntie and the Appendix, which resulted in their strange male-fearing views. The creativity of the world-building that went into creating the beliefs that the girls were taught was incredible. It even made sense in a warped sort of way. (hide spoiler)]

The theme of nature vs. nurture certainly played out on the side of nurture in this story.

And then, the very end of the story was the most interesting part of all. To see how the different sisters dealt with what happened, and how they dealt with being “Outside”. The last few sentences, narrated by Calamity herself, created a huge amount of tension that is left to the reader’s imagination to solve. I love the somewhat open-ending of the story – we do have a conclusion to the main events in the book, but are also left with the question: what will Calamity do? And is she in fact “ready” to handle the Real World?

I loved this book, and if you don’t mind a “settling in” period at the beginning of a book, when you don’t really know for sure what’s happening (be reassured that it does all get explained), I would definitely say: read it!

I received an e-copy of this book for review from the publishers via NetGalley.

View all my reviews


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