Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney

Ages 15 and up

Anaxandra is a hostage held by Nicander, king of Syphnos. Playmate of his crippled daughter, Callisto, she also spends time in the outside, running about the island and climbing a tree (Syphnos doesn’t have many). Which is what saves her when pirates attack her small island home. Surviving through sheer luck and ingenuity, she is mistaken for the dead princess when Menelaus, king of Sparta stops by to see what has happened on Syphnos. Anaxandra finds herself risking the wrath of the gods as she tries to survive in the household of Helen, first in Sparta and then in Troy.

If my obsession with the Percy Jackson series is any indication, I love Greek mythology. Love it. Love it. Love it. So obviously, I’m more than slightly inclined to pick up books that involve Greek mythology. I cannot say I loved this book. But I did really, really, really like it. When I finished it, my first thought was “That was a good book.” Okay, maybe that wasn’t my first thought (That would more read as “YES! Spoiler spoiler spoiler. I knew she’d spoiler spoiler spoiler.” Didn’t think you’d want to read that). There was no wondering if I liked the book, weighing the good writing with the ending that made me want to cry. No, “I can’t believe you had me thinking the whole time it would be XYZ. Now I have to reread the entire series again just so I focus on the her relationship with ABC.” It was just good. Applauding in I-275 traffic, the drivers around me think I’m crazy good.

Again, me and my obsession with history and mythology (any mythology) loved the detail that she was able to include in her portrayal of Ancient Greece and Troy. Occasionally, I think she got swept away a tad bit with all the research, but being someone who loves this kind of detail (hence one of the reason I love The Lord of the Rings) I was okay with it. That and she didn’t really go overboard at any climactic moments. For the most part, she worked the details that she gave into the plot. Something as small as the crowded sleeping arrangements in Troy becomes important when Anaxandra is confronted with certain challenges.

Also, I like Anaxandra’s inner voice. The book is told entirely in first person (I have lately been very lucky in my first person books, it is slightly odd) and I must say that Cooney did a very good job. Of course, looking at the long list of books that she has published, I suppose that that is to be expected. I vaguely remember her having a good command of the first person in the only other book of hers I have read, The Face on the Milk Carton. The first person POV worked well for this story, because there was so much information making up the story that you needed a filter to pick out what was important. My only qualm was that, with the exception of her unnamed goddess, Anaxandra and the other characters see the Greek gods as cold and cruel. The Greek gods are anthropomorphic, meaning that human characteristics are attributed to them. In mythology you see both the good and the bad in them, just as you would with an ordinary human. You see very little of the merciful side of the Greek gods in this story, and while the story doesn’t give much occasion to see it until the very end–I would have liked to have it at least acknowledged.

But that’s mostly the nerd in me being nitpicky.

For the most part, this didn’t feel like a book geared only to young adults. Of course there is the fact that the whole story happens because of Helen’s infidelity. But my main caution to parents with advanced readers like me (I was reading adult level books by 12, mostly in Christian fiction) is that Anaxandra doesn’t mince words on what happens to women who are the spoils of war. Rape is a very real consequence of being a captive in her world and she knows it. And she states that fact a few times. Be ready to discuss that with your kids.

On the whole a nice book to read. It was little less fast-paced and adrenaline inducing than the books that I’ve been reading lately, so I enjoyed it. The tension built slowly, but steadily.

This is a good example of:

  • Historical fiction
  • First person narrative
  • Significant detail (or details that influence/move the story forward)
  • Pacing
  • Chronicling a life over many years.

This book is on my recommended reading list