cover image The Crystal Heart: A Vietnamese Legend

The Crystal Heart: A Vietnamese Legend

Aaron Shepard. Atheneum Books, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81551-5

In this haunting tale of unrequited love, a mandarin's beautiful daughter hears the ""deep and sweet"" voice of an unseen fisherman as he sings, and imagines him to be a mandarin's son in disguise. The girl pines away for him until the bewildered singer--dressed in rags and stinking of fish--is brought before her. When she sees him, she laughs at her own folly; the fisherman, however, has instantly fallen in love with her, and her laughter causes him to die of heartbreak. His heart becomes a crystal, which winds up a teacup for the mandarin's daughter; she sees in her tea the fisherman's sad eyes and repents of her thoughtlessness. Shepard (The Sea King's Daughter) paces his polished storytelling to accommodate atmospheric details (e.g., the girl sits on a bench by a moon-shaped window), although the ending feels hurried by comparison. Debut artist Fiedler reinforces the weight of the prose with densely hued paintings of almost theatrical tableaux: the girl lies listlessly on her bed, enveloped in a mosquito net that almost looks like a light flowing over her; the crystal heart glows as it is placed in the fisherman's empty boat. Despite the Vietnamese setting, this sophisticated story has much in common with Hans Christian Andersen's sorrowful romances, and its words and images will likely linger with readers. Ages 6-9. (Sept.)