‘Wicked’ author signing newest young-adult novel in Oakland
A monk locked inside a tower, a prince traveling in disguise and a witch with a twisted sense of humor are just some of the characters who populate “Egg and Spoon” (Candlewick Press, $17.99), Gregory Maguire’s latest fantasy-adventure book.
He will be reading excerpts from and talking about the book and his career when he appears Nov. 9 at the Carnegie Library Lecture Hall in Oakland as the guest of the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Kids and Teens series. Following the reading and talk, Maguire will sign copies of the book, which will be available for purchase.
Set in czarist Russia, it’s an adventure tale about Elena, a desperately poor young girl who lives in the countryside with her dying mother. Her life takes a more interesting turn when a train transporting a family of wealthy aristocrats on their way to visit the czar in St. Petersburg makes an unplanned stop in her village.
Maguire is most widely known as the author of “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” which inspired the highly popular musical.
But there’s another side to his writing career. “Egg and Spoon” is his 17th book for young adults.
It takes readers to Miersk, a town influenced by the same Russian fairy tales that inspired another young adult novel, “The Dream Stealer,” which he wrote more than 30 years ago.
“What made me want to come back now was that I wanted to write about things facing American readers, both adults and kids, about what was happening — food shortages and global warming — in a way that was not hectoring them,” Maguire says.
He chose to return his setting to Russia because it felt like a place where fairy tales and magic could happen. “Russia is larger than the U.S. It’s compelling and more mysterious. Anything can happen there.”
Aiming the book at middle-school readers, he kept the sentences shorter and avoided sexual encounters by making the main characters — Elena and Catherine — 13 years old.
“They are not doing what people are doing in middle school today,” Maguire says. “No one is taking off their clothes in back of the czar’s throne room.”
What readers will find is a book with multiple layers, as well as unexpected twists and turns and a mix of absurdity and spectacle.
“What I hope readers will find is not just a compelling, plotted novel, but stuff I am known for as a writer — lush attention to the power of language to engage and surprise,” Maguire says.
“I love colors and landscapes, and I always love surprises in writing. If you read one-third of a book and you are not arrested by the images, it’s difficult to care about the characters.”