Waifs and Strays

by Charles de Lint

Cover image

Publisher: Viking
Copyright: 2002
ISBN: 0-670-03584-X
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 391

Buy at Powell's Books

This is a collection of Charles de Lint's short stories about children and teenagers, and is something of a cross between a short story collection for young adult readers and a short story collection about young adults. A little more the latter than the former, I think.

New in this collection is "Sisters," but there is also quite a bit of other material that has previously only been published in fairly obscure places or in young adult anthologies. The second half of the collection, the Borderland and Newford stories, is distinctly stronger than the first half. The stories don't, unfortunately, quite hit the tone of waifs or strays that I was hoping for from the title, as many of the characters aren't particularly waifish and don't quite fit the image that I imagined for a stray. That being said, there are a few stories, particularly "May This Be Your Last Sorrow," that fit the tone perfectly.

"Merlin Dreams in the Mondream Wood": A Tamson House story (the setting for Moonheart and Spiritwalk) about friendship and parting. Not a lot to it, but it made me smile. This story also appears in Spiritwalk. (7)

"There's No Such Thing": A short vampire story with an decent twist. There isn't much room here to do anything much beyond set up the twist at the end. (7)

"Sisters": De Lint returns to the same characters as "There's No Such Thing." It's a decent picking up of the loose threads left by the previous story, although the ending left me unsatisfied. (7)

"Fairy Dust": This was a bit heavy on the moral and emotional heartstrings for me, although otherwise a decent story about tiny fairies. (6)

"A Wish Named Arnold": The first really good story of this collection, I think. It's pretty obvious what's going to happen with the wish from the beginning, but the story is still nicely told and nicely handled, with a sweet ending. (8)

"Wooden Bones": Notable only for being possibly the first appearance of de Lint's animal people, this story didn't do anything for me. The setup seemed potentially promising, but it never went anywhere, and the ending is a ham-handed moral. (5)

"The Graceless Child": A half-trow child encounters Dream and Nightmare and comes to terms with her father. A fairly pedestrian story salvaged for me by an unexpected, bittersweet ending. (7)

"A Tattoo on Her Heart": Science fiction from Charles de Lint! Well, sort of; it still hits his standard themes. There was some significance to the ending here that didn't click for me, but still an interesting exploration of an idea. (6)

"Stick": This is a longer story set in Borderland, a realm between the regular world and Elfland where the realities of both sides mix. It's the story of a half-breed elf and the place she eventually finds for herself. It doesn't have quite so obvious of a conclusion or a moral as many of the others in this collection, being more just a story of personal courage, and perhaps that's why I liked it better. (8)

"May This Be Your Last Sorrow": The best story in this collection. This is a captured moment rather than a story with a plot, and is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for when I bought this collection. I loved this story (and cried at it). (10)

"One Chance": A tragedy about what other worlds can offer and what they can't. Another good one, although be warned that it doesn't have a nice ending. (8)

"Alone": Featuring the same main character as "One Chance," this is sort of an emotional detective story but more a story about someone finding her feet. Decent. (7)

"But for the Grace Go I": This is part of Maisie Flood's story, one of the less-frequently-seen Newford regulars. I like Maisie a lot; she's one of my favorites of de Lint's characters. Where this story captures how she feels and how she chooses to live her life, I loved it. The ending I thought was forced and poor, but thankfully there's another follow-on story later in this collection. (7)

"Ghosts of Wind and Shadow": An excellent story, long enough to sink one's teeth into, this one also features (unusually for de Lint), street life that is actively predatory and dangerous. A girl can see fairy out of the corners of her eyes; her mother can too, but doesn't want to, and doesn't want to believe she can either. Thankfully, the girl encounters two strong guides to this other world, to help. There's a nice, fitting ending that avoids being too pat or too positive. (8)

"Waifs and Strays": A follow-on story to "But for the Grace Go I," this story returns to Maisie Flood and undoes some of the mess of the previous ending. I'm very glad to see that the ending didn't completely stick, and with this story I can forgive the last; taken together, they're a much more realistic and stronger story. The ending still left me a little dissatisfied, but not as much, and I love Maisie's attitude. (9)

"Somewhere in My Mind There Is a Painting Box": A story about art, about capturing both other worlds and our own, and about the things that keep us here and the things that lead us away. I liked the slightly bittersweet ending (there's not enough good tragedy in writing) and Lily's disappointed relationship with the magical world. (8)

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-07-24

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