Friday, August 23, 2019

Astrid the Unstoppable, by Maria Parr

Astrid is a thunderbolt, a force of nature in her mountain home of Glimmerdale.  Her joys in life consist of sledding down hills, singing at the top of her lungs, and driving grumpy Mr. Hagen crazy (children, in his opinion, should be silent and kept indoors).  But amidst the beauty of her Nordic paradise, there is something she lacks:  some other children with whom to play.

The novel covers three important events in Astrid's life:  First of all, her efforts to ride a sled all the way from her high mountain home down to the town on the shore of the fjord.  Then, secondly, the moment when her dream of having other children come is answered but it seems that the children will go away almost as soon as they arrive.  And ultimately with the return of a young woman that Astrid never even knew existed.

Inspired by Heidi (and a bit by Pippi Longstocking as well), Astrid fits comfortably into the tradition of irrepressible young heroines.  The book, translated from Norwegian, is quirky and very much a cultural artifact – written in a style that makes it seem old fashioned, even though it is set in modern day.  The fact that the children are always playing outdoors and no Game Boys, texting, or Net Flix are to be found can be disconcerting.  Like Johanna Spyri, the author of Heidi, Parr promotes the benefits of outdoor living and that can seem anachronistic for a contemporary novel.  But as alien as the setting may be, Astrid's joyfulness and energy has universal appeal.

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