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*Cupid: A Tale of Love & Desire* by Julius Lester- young adult book review


Cupid: A Tale of Love & Desire
by Julius Lester
Grades 10+ 368 pages Harcourt January 2007 Hardcover    

Not since the 1981 movie Clash of the Titans has mythology been so entertaining.

It’s playtime for the author as he retells Apuleius’s famous Cupid and Psyche tale. Julius Lester retells the story through the voice of a chatty storyteller who, much to his frustration, is often interrupted by the story itself. Story is obviously listening closely, because he speaks up when he feels he needs to. Storyteller and Story have disagreements over the importance of details like names in the story, and the speed at which the tale should be told. But with permission from Story, the Storyteller fills in details missing in the original Cupid and Psyche story. For example, Storyteller names the “name-naked” kingdom “Kingdom-By-The-Great-Blue Sea.” And you never know what will come out of Storyteller’s mouth. He surmises the nameless King and Queen must address each other somehow, and he imagines they use names like “Honey” and “Good Lips.” The Storyteller figures he’s telling the story the way it should be told today, and all the while he’s interjecting what he knows, in his heart, about love.

Storyteller tells a story about what it feels like to have love - and to lose it. Cupid comes to know for the first time what love is, but he also learns how to appreciate it, be worthy of it, and keep it. Cupid would never have met the beautiful Psyche if his mother, Venus, hadn’t sent him down from Olympus to earth to destroy her. But Cupid falls in love with Psyche immediately- and he didn’t even use his bow and arrow to do it. His bow and arrows have the power to scare, and he uses that fear to his advantage when he takes his plan to marry Psyche to Apollo, a God who cannot lie. But continuing to love Psyche and keeping her safe means disobeying Venus, something Cupid has never dared before.

Psyche’s beauty is a burden on her kingdom, and it ultimately makes her lonely. Her beauty is even noticed in Olympus; Venus is twistedly jealous of Psyche’s beauty because Venus herself is supposed to be the most beautiful woman in creation. In her marriage to Cupid, Psyche’s loneliness stays with her, and her two vengeful sisters use this to help them destroy her. Despite the many warnings from Cupid, Psyche reveals too much information to her sisters and, most devastatingly, she takes their advice. That advice results in breaking a promise she has made to Cupid. Cupid flees out of anger and pain. While Cupid is gone, Venus finally gets her hands on Psyche. Psyche must solve four tasks given to her by Venus, tasks that are designed to kill her. With unexpected allies in the Sun, Pan, the Four Winds and others, Psyche is not denied what she needs to acquire. Cupid isn’t denied what he wants most of all, either. And with a new “Pleasure” in his life, I bet Cupid comes to understand love even more.

Even though Story is impatient and won’t let Storyteller tell all the details he’d like, we do learn a lot about the immortal Gods and Goddesses living in Olympus. Venus lives in a huge palace, where on the second floor are the spirits of people who have been hurt in love stay. And even though the Gods and Goddesses are immortal, they are not without their weaknesses. And these weaknesses come across in this story. In addition, the Storyteller incorporates other little tales into the main story for some background and history. For example, in telling the story of Venus and Adonis, readers will be reminded of how Adonis’s blood came to be the anemone, or the wind flower, that we see today.

In this book, we also see the many gods and goddesses “behind the sky” in Olympus, even the lesser-known deities such as Oizys, the Goddess of pain. In this story, she is the masseuse in Olympus. But we also see the gods and goddesses come down to earth to deliver messages or to visit their temples and glimpse their offerings.

Julius Lester is the winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award and the author of over twenty books for youth. It’s effortless to learn about mythology with Julius Lester’s Cupid.

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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  Tanya Boudreau/2006 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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