cover image Spiders Voice

Spiders Voice

Gloria Skurzynski. Atheneum Books, $16.95 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-689-82149-3

The scandalous history of the doomed 12th-century lovers Abelard and Heloise forms the dramatic frame for a coming-of-age story that is also a meditation on servitude, the fragility of the human body and the power of language. Aran, the peasant boy who narrates, cannot speak because of a deformity that has bound his tongue to the bottom of his mouth. His abusive brother sells him in Paris, where his new owners sear his flesh into a metal carapace; his limbs will grow, but not his torso, making him a human ""spider."" He is rescued by the arrogant, brilliant teacher Abelard, who promptly has the carapace removed, but Abelard has an ulterior motive for his kindness: he needs a silent servant to watch over his liaisons with the beautiful Eloise (as she is here called), ""the most learned woman in all of Europe."" Scholars, however, cannot marry, and Abelard and Eloise hurtle toward separate fates. Abelard gets castrated by his enemies and in his fury cuts loose Aran's tongue, and as the boy gains speech, Abelard becomes a monk and Eloise a nun. Skurzynski (Virtual War) doesn't flinch from her often distressing subject matter, and her characterizations are complex, doing justice to the courage and passion of her protagonists. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)