Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Hug Chickenpenny: the Panegyric of an Anomalous Child by S. Craig Zahler

Well, this novel made me ugly cry.  I'm not going to lie.  Sob, actually.  I was asked to review this novel, which was recently snagged by the Jim Henson Company to create what I imagine will be a visually incredible, moving film.  It was not at all something I would have picked up and read otherwise, but oh, I am so glad I did; Hug Chickenpenny is a character I won't soon forget. 

First of all, "panegyric" means a public text in praise of someone.  You could say an ode, a tribute, or a story. "Anomalous" is defined as something that is out of the ordinary, not normal; something unexpected.  Hug Chickenpenny is one unusual little boy.  His mother dies at birth--which happens in a strange, abandoned house late one night. Hug is sent to an orphanage, and is physically odd, and frightening to the other children.  Two different eyes-one red, one brown, that do not blink together; slits for a nose, a flipper for one arm, and a badly bent leg.  A head that is large and bumpy, with white hair.  He shrieks so loudly that it pierces the ears.  No one cares for him except for Georgie, a caring man at the orphanage. Along comes a doctor, who adopts him and adds him to his collection of odd, anomalous creatures.  Poor Hug.  He's only seven, and even though he's treated badly by most everyone who meets him, he radiates kindness and innocence.  He always tries to be helpful and see the good in everyone.  He doesn't understand that he is different.  He dreams of building a rocket ship and flying out to space, to return to a home he only knows from his dreams.  

Hug's luck shifts eventually, and he finds a home and family that love him and don't see his physical differences, but accept him as he is, and he blossoms.  Until tragedy happens, and Hug is once again spun out into a cruel world.  Yet he still retains his big heart, and his belief that everyone can be good even if all they've shown him is cruelty.  I seriously did sob at the end of this novel.  I can say this is one memorable story that will stick with me for a very long time.  Read Hug's story, and I bet your heart will grow just a bit bigger. 

Here's some information about S. Craig Zahler, the author of this wonderful tale:

About the Author:
S. Craig Zahler is an award-winning screenwriter, director, novelist, cinematographer, and musician. He wrote, directed, and co-composed the score for the breakout 2015 film Bone Tomahawk, starring Kurt Russell, which was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards. Zahler most recently wrote and directed Brawl in Cell Block 99, starring Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, and Don Johnson, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and went on to critical acclaim from screenings at Toronto, Fantastic Fest, and many more festivals before being released in October 2017; and Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn star in Zahler’s gritty cop thriller Dragged Across Concrete, currently in post-production. 

Zahler is also the author of several novels, including A Congregation of Jackals, nominated for both the Peacemaker and the Spur Awards; Mean Business on North Ganson Street; and Wraiths of the Broken Land, which 20th Century Fox recently announced will be a major motion picture with Ridley Scott directing. In addition to writing and directing, Zahler has founded and played in several bands, including Binary Reptile, a synthesizer project that provided the music for the audio drama movie, The Narrow Caves. He lives in New York City.

And some reviews from the press:

Advance Praise:
"S. Craig Zahler is certain to become one of the great imaginers of our time."
―Clive Barker

“Complex, well-drawn characterizations, compelling imagery and a well-ordered story arc complete a trifecta of literary accomplishment here that is achieved by few elsewhere. Five-plus stars to Hug Chickenpenny.”
Publishers Daily Reviews

"An exceptional, original, and inherently fascinating read from beginning to end."
Midwest Book Review

“At its heart, this is a book about looking beyond the exterior and being patient with those who fail to do so, and the way in which the author lays that path before his audience is captivating and unforgettable.”
U.S. Review of Books

"Hug Chickenpenny is much more than literature. It's an experience."

"I was intrigued (and still am) by the cover art on this new book. Detailed and beautiful, the
cover is a good segue into what to expect from the story. (In case you’re wondering, the little boy looking off into the distance is Mr. Hug Chickenpenny. What is he looking at, I wonder?) Learn about Hug’s life by venturing into this aptly written wonder of fiction. You won’t regret it. "
―Michael Rodriguez, Harvard Book Store Staff Pick

Like Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and David Lynch’s Elephant Man, the appeal of Zahler’s hero is his extreme duality: a monstrous form encapsulating a sweet, innocent soul…a daring, evocative work that defies categorization.”
Dallas Observer

Hug Chickenpenny is reminiscent of A Series of Unfortunate Events, not in plot, but in tone. It takes place in its own time, and blends archaic terms with modern conveniences. It’s definitely not steampunk, but I imagined that it took place in the 1970s with Dickensian flavors scattered about — best of all it’s written well. Hug Chickenpenny is different from anything I’ve read — it’s certainly different from Zahler’s other work — and as someone who sees a lot of the same tropes consistently, Hug Chickenpenny is refreshing.”
Diabolique Magazine

Well.  All I can say is grab a copy of this book, and read it.  You will love it.  Certainly appropriate for teens and tweens.  

Rating:  6/6!  Yes, a 6/6 for a novel about kindness always winning out over ugliness, hope, love, and looking beyond the physical.  Being different is what makes us all special.  

Available in paperback.

A big thank you to Wunderkind PR for providing a review copy of this novel.  It has a permanent place on my bookshelf.  

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