Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Review of Gondra’s Treasure, by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

Gondra’s Treasure

by Linda Sue Park
illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2019. 40 pages.

This picture book is a delightful way to approach the topic of liminal spaces – being neither here nor there – trying to figure out where you belong if you come from a mixed-culture marriage. In this case, Gondra is a little dragon. Her mom is an Western Dragon, and her dad is an Eastern Dragon.

“In the West, dragons breathe fire,” Mom said.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” I asked.
“That’s what I said, when we first met,” Dad said. “In the East, dragons breathe mist.”

Mom shrugged. “Compared to fire, it seems . . . um . . . pretty boring.”
Dad frowned,. “What did you say?”
Mom cleared her throat and spoke loudly. “I said ‘pretty.’ Mist is pretty.”

We learn more about differences between dragons of the East and the West, including how they fly, how they look, where they live, and how they feel about treasure. And Gondra is proud to have some characteristics from each of her parents, but also to be entirely herself.

I like it when an author uses fantasy to present a situation many different readers can relate to, rather than looking at one specific human instance of a mixed marriage – they can see how a dragon mixed marriage relates to them.

lspark.com
hmhco.com

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Review of Stepsister, by Jennifer Donnelly

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Stepsister

by Jennifer Donnelly

Scholastic Press, May 14, 2019. 342 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 13, 2019, from an advance reader copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting.

Stepsister was my airplane reading on my way back from ALA Midwinter Meeting and made the long flight a delight. It tells about Isabelle, one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters.

The story begins when Isabelle is ready to cut off her toes so they will fit into the glass slipper the prince has brought, after her sister Octavia was discovered to have cut off her heel.

“We should’ve heated the blade for Tavi,” Maman fretted now. “Why didn’t I think of it? Heat sears the vessels. It stops the bleeding. Ah, well. It will go better for you, Isabelle.”

It’s not easy, but Isabelle cuts off this part of herself, as she has cut off metaphorical parts of herself all during her life at Maman’s bidding.

And yet, when Maman demanded that she get up, Isabelle did. She opened her eyes, took a deep breath to steady herself, and stood.

Isabelle could do this impossible thing because she had a gift – a gift far more valuable than a pretty face or dainty feet.

Isabelle had a strong will.

She did not know that this was a good thing for a girl to have, because everyone had always told her it was a terrible thing. Everyone said a girl with a strong will would come to a bad end. Everyone said a girl’s will must be bent to the wishes of those who know what’s best for her.

Isabelle was young, only sixteen; she had not yet learned that Everyone is a fool.

Anyone who knows the fairy tale “Cinderella” knows that this didn’t go well for Isabelle. However, that’s only the beginning of this book.

There’s a Prologue that came before this, and we learn that the three Fates have a wager going wiith Chance, who appears as a bold and handsome young man.

He was dressed in a sky-blue frockcoat, leather britches, and tall boots. A gold ring dangled from one ear; a cutlass hung from his hip. His face was as beautiful as daybreak, his smile as bewitching as midnight. His eyes promised the world, and everything in it.

Isabelle is the very mortal whose life map (showing her fate) Chance has stolen. The Fates are not happy about it.

“All this trouble for a mere girl?” asked the crone, regarding Chance closely. “She’s nothing, a nobody. She possesses neither beauty nor wit. She’s selfish. Mean. Why her?”

“Because I can’t resist a challenge,” Chance replied. He rerolled the map with one hand, steadying it against his chest, then tucked it back inside his coat. “And what girl wouldn’t choose what I offer?” He gestured at himself, as if even he couldn’t believe how irresistible he was. “I’ll give her the chance to change the path she is on. The chance to make her own path.”

“Fool,” said the crone. “You understand nothing of mortals. We Fates map out their lives because they wish it. Mortals do not like uncertainty. They do not like change. Change is frightening. Change is painful.”

“Change is a kiss in the dark. A rose in the snow. A wild road on a windy night,” Chance countered.

“Monsters live in the dark. Roses die in the snow. Girls get lost on wild roads,” the crone shot back.

So there’s something at stake as Isabelle’s life plays out. The stepsisters’ story becomes known to the people around them, giving them contempt from the other villagers. Then war comes close to the region. Isabelle hears from a fairy queen a way to change her fate, but will she dare seize that? And meanwhile, neither Chance nor the crone of the Fates is shy about inserting themselves into Isabelle’s story to make sure they win the wager.

Yes, some may say you need to cut off pieces of yourself to make your way in the world. But this book suggests that it’s possible to recover those pieces again and take your fate in your own hands. A wonderful story about what happens after the fairy tale.

jenniferdonnelly.com
scholastic.com

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Review of Muse of Nightmares, by Laini Taylor

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

Muse of Nightmares

by Laini Taylor
read by Steve West

Hachette Audio, 2018. 16 hours on 13 CDs.
Starred Review
Review written December 10, 2018, from a library audiobook
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Teen Speculative Fiction

Wow. This book is wonderful. I confess, I listened to this book even though it’s technically eligible for the Newbery Medal. Our committee had agreed not to listen to audiobooks of eligible books so as not to be swayed in either direction. But the book this follows, Strange the Dreamer, was the book that gave me a crush on narrator Steve West (what a gorgeous voice!), and it’s very long – way too long to indulge in reading the book – and that first book struck me as much more appropriate for young adults than for children.

That continues to be my opinion. Yes, there are some teens in this book – but they are dealing with life as adults, deciding careers and where to live and yes, having sex. There are no parents telling them what to do.

This second book is even sexier than the first. I would hesitate to give it to a 14-year-old. In fact, it would almost be a shame to give this to anyone who hasn’t already had sex themselves – might give them the wrong idea. Our two protagonists have some special powers. Sarai is a ghost with a body – but she can do things like make her body light up when Lazlo kisses her. And they can go to fantasy locations in dreams – and it’s all very amazing. And I wouldn’t want to give anyone a misleading impression about what normal sex is like!

Even setting aside that part, this book is amazing. We’re set up at the end of the first book with what seems to be an impossible situation. Minya is keeping Sarai “alive” as a ghost. But Minya also wants to destroy the people of the city of Weep. Lazlo is caught in the middle. If he doesn’t let Minya get her vengeance, then she’s going to let Sorai completely die.

Can Laini Taylor pull off a satisfying and believable ending from that set-up? It turns out that yes, she can.

To pull off that satisfying ending involves telling another story and giving us a bigger picture of worlds parallel to the one where our story is set. It’s all intricate and well-worked-out and I am again marveling at Laini Taylor’s imagination.

It’s also long. Yes, there’s some repetition. Yes, there are some places where we get more descriptions of people’s emotions than we necessarily need. But again, listening to Steve West’s narration on my commute, I didn’t mind the experience being prolonged.

In the first book we found out about generations of abuse that happened to the people of the city of Weep. In the second book, we find out what was behind that abuse – and see realistic beginnings of healing from it.

And the whole story is intricate and imaginative and beautifully told.

lainitaylor.com
strangethedreamer.com
hachetteaudio.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Sweep, by Jonathan Auxier

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

Sweep

The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

by Jonathan Auxier

Amulet Books, 2018. 358 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 23, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#2 Children’s Fiction – Fantasy
2019 Sydney Taylor Gold Medal

The way this book begins gives you a feeling of the magic to come:

There are all sorts of wonderful things a person might see very early in the morning. You might see your parents sleeping. You might see an unclaimed penny on the sidewalk or the first rays of dawn. And if you are very, very lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the girl and her Sweep.

Look! Here they are now, approaching through the early fog: a thin man with a long broom over one shoulder, the end bobbing up and down with every step. And trailing behind him, pail in hand, a little girl, who loves that man more than anything in the world.

The girl, Nan, is the assistant to the Sweep and life is beautiful by his side.

But one night, the Sweep doesn’t come back. He leaves her his hat and coat, with a charred clump of soot in its pocket. She calls it her “char,” and it’s oddly comforting and unnaturally warm, as she lives the difficult and dangerous life of a “climber” – working for a sweep who is not kind or loving with a bunch of other stray kids who have no other home.

But one day, when Nan’s life is in danger in a tight chimney, she calls out for help – and the char in her pocket comes to life and breaks through the chimney. She ends up escaping from the cruel master and hiding out with her char, who quickly grows into a creature bigger than she is herself. He’s oddly innocent and very protective of her – and eventually Nan figures out that the Sweep made her a golem to protect her. She names him Charlie

This lovely book tells about Nan and Charlie’s adventures in the city, trying to make a home for themselves and escape her cruel master, who is looking for her since she escaped the chimney and was thought to be dead. Meanwhile, we learn about the horrible plight of all the climber children in Victorian London. Can Nan and Charlie make things better for them as well?

But the main trouble with loving a golem? He only lasts until his job is done.

TheScop.com
amuletbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Circle, by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Friday, March 22nd, 2019

Circle

by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Candlewick Press, 2019. 52 pages.
Review written March 12, 2019, from a library book

This is the third book in a Shapes trilogy by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, where the characters are large shapes with eyes. I wasn’t crazy about the first two, and thought Triangle was just plain mean-spirited, but I’m really taken with Circle.

The story is simple. Circle’s planning a game of hide-and-seek with Square and Triangle. Circle tells them the rules, and the main one is no hiding behind the waterfall because it’s dark back there.

Well, when Circle opens her eyes, Square is just standing there, pointing. Triangle broke the rule and went behind the waterfall.

Then their adventures begin.

This one’s fun. I love the look of the pages, especially the lovely misty waterfall contrasting with the distinct shapes. And then it plays with the dark shapes – and bright eyes – in the dark behind the waterfall.

The final line asks the reader an imaginative question, and I’m going to use this book in a storytime just to find out what kids will say.

candlewick.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Girl with the Dragon Heart, by Stephanie Burgis

Friday, March 15th, 2019

The Girl with the Dragon Heart

by Stephanie Burgis

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019. 277 pages.
Review written March 9, 2019, from a library book

This book is a sequel to The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart and technically you may not need to read the first book first, but I think you’ll enjoy this one more if you do and you’ll better understand what’s going on.

In the first book, the young dragon Aventurine was turned into a human girl who learned that she loved chocolate and making chocolate. This book features Aventurine’s friend Silke, a fast talker who lives by the river, running a stall with her brother. Now Silke works in the chocolate shop with Aventurine as a waitress and publicist.

In this book, we learn more about Silke’s background and how she lost her parents six years ago when they were refugees and went through the country where the fairies live underground.

Now the fairies are coming to the city of Drachenburg. They invited themselves as a delegation to talk with the crown princess. She isn’t sure what they’re up to – and asks Silke to infiltrate the palace talks and act as a spy to learn why the fairies are really there. Since that fits perfectly with Silke’s desire to learn what happened to her parents, she quickly agrees.

Silke thinks it will all be easy for a storyteller like her. But right away things don’t go according to plan. And the fairies’ intentions are quickly revealed to be sinister indeed.

This book has adventure, magic, and spying. The story isn’t as simple as the first book (in which a dragon becomes a human girl and hijinks ensue), but it ends up being a fun yarn. And like the first book, I was compelled to eat some chocolate along with my reading.

stephanieburgis.com
bloomsbury.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Courting Darkness, by Robin LaFevers

Monday, March 4th, 2019

Courting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 503 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 25, 2019, from my own copy.

When I heard that Robin LaFevers was writing another book in the world of His Fair Assassin, I put the book on pre-order from Amazon right away. Although I loved re-entering that world, and the author’s writing is still magnificent, and once again I learned things about medieval Brittany – I was a little disappointed with this book compared to the others.

First, although there was lots of sex, I didn’t think this one was as romantic as the others. One couple may have fallen in love, but they’re certainly not admitting it yet. But it also didn’t come to as good a stopping-place as each of the first three books did. There’s a lot that’s still unresolved, and the book ends on something of a cliff-hanger. Which is all the more annoying when the next book hasn’t been written yet.

But please don’t think I didn’t love reading this book. I have a feeling that I will appreciate it all the more once more books are written in this series. I still intend to preorder the next book — may that day come soon.

And back to the assassin nuns. In this book, we meet Genevieve, another girl sent out from the convent of St. Mortain, the god of death. Years ago, Genevieve was sent with Margot to the court of France and told they’d be called on when needed by the convent. They have heard nothing since. Now they’re in the household of Count Angouleme, and Margot is about to have his bastard. Then Genevieve finds someone forgotten in a dungeon….

That story is alternated with what’s going on with Sybella, who was featured in Dark Triumph. Now she has custody of her younger sisters, but her vicious brother still wants them all in his power. The Duchess of Brittany can protect them – but will she still be able to do so after she becomes Queen of France? Sybella needs to protect the duchess on her journey to reach the king, but it is probably best if the king and the power behind the throne – the king’s sister – don’t realize that Sybella is a trained assassin and a daughter of Mortain, the god of death.

And is the duchess even doing the right thing becoming Queen of France? Or has she given up her power to rule her own people?

The story is once again absorbing and fascinating. It once again is firmly based in historical fact – so that we begin to think there really may have been assassin nuns serving the Duchess of Brittany. If I was a little disappointed, it was only because I wanted another like the first three. But hadn’t I been delighted in how different each of the first three books was from the others? Also, I suspect once I get over the cliff-hanger ending – by reading the next book – I will be all the more happy with this new series.

[Ah! Amazon says it will be a Duology. So if I think of this as half of one complete story — it’s a lot more satisfying.]

And now that I’m not reading for the Newbery – I may just go back and enjoy the His Fair Assassin trilogy all over again.

robinlafevers.com
hmhco.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Flight of Swans, by Sarah McGuire

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

The Flight of Swans

by Sarah McGuire

Carolrhoda Books, 2018. 441 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 30, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
Mock Newbery winner at City of Fairfax Regional Library
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Children’s Fiction – Fantasy

Wow. Most of my readers know I love fairy tale retellings – this is a wonderful one, completely pulling me into the fantasy world, getting my very heart beating along with the protagonist, who tried to be silent for six years.

The fairy tale it’s retelling is the Grimm tale, “The Six Swans.” That was never my favorite fairy tale – but I think it’s interesting that my favorite fairy tale retelling for adults, Daughter of the Forest, is based on the same tale. This version is written for children, and doesn’t have quite as brutal things happen to the silent sister, but it’s equally powerful.

I reread the fairy tale after reading this book, and almost wish I hadn’t. The author retained the main elements – six older brothers turned into swans by the witch who enchanted and married the princess’s father, and she has to stay silent for six years, while knitting them shirts made out of nettles. But oh! The way she tells the story! I want to start reading it all over again. I’m actually a bit resentful that I need to keep reading other books. But the Newbery process being what it is – I know that I will read this book more times, and that’s a comfort to me.

Okay, I should tell about the book, not just rave about how good it is.

The book begins with Andaryn trying to fight her father’s enchantment:

The exile of the princes of Lacharra didn’t begin with swords or spells.

It began inside the castle kitchen with a quest for cloves.

It began with me.

Cooks mistrust anyone with empty hands, so I darted to the nearest table and snatched up a bowl of chopped leeks. Then I shouldered between scullery maids and undercooks as I moved toward the spice pantry.

Perhaps I was foolish. Maybe Father was just sick after being lost so many weeks in the forest. Maybe it was normal for a man newly married to hardly speak to the daughter he’d loved –

Then I remembered last night: Rees, the stable master, and the stable boy being beaten while Father looked on with empty eyes.

Something had happened to Father in the forest. He never would have allowed a beating for violating such a small edict, even if the woman he’d married had issued it.

Whatever she banned must be important – even if it was something as simple as cloves.

Andaryn secures some cloves and brings her father out of the enchantment – for a little while. But the Queen comes upon them together and quickly destroys Andaryn’s efforts. When Andaryn breaks the glamour her six older brothers feel for the Queen, her victory doesn’t last. The Queen locks them up, burning down the oldest brother’s castle with the brothers locked in the dungeon.

Andaryn bargains for their lives with her silence.

Finally, she spoke. “It would be a great sacrifice to release your brothers. I would expect something great in return: one year of silence for each of them. Not a word spoken,” she raised a finger, “and not a word written, either, for a word that’s written can be spoken. The moment you consent is the moment they are free.

Andaryn consents, and the Queen does set them free – but turns them into swans. They will take human form again only on the night of the full moon each month.

And so begins Andaryn’s journeys, in silence. It turns out it’s not enough to find a place to shelter, because the Queen sets otherworldly Huntsmen out after her.

The journeys aren’t as solitary as in the fairy tale, for her oldest brother’s wife accompanies Andaryn for some of the years. And there is a child to tend, as in the fairy tale – but the baby is her oldest brother’s son, the heir of the kingdom. And yes, the princess is discovered by the king of another country, but she still can’t speak.

Andaryn starts out as a 12-year-old determined princess. She ends the book as an 18-year-old young lady who has learned to be strong as steel through her suffering. A magnificent story.

lernerbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of West, by Edith Pattou

Friday, February 8th, 2019

West

by Edith Pattou

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 514 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 13, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Speculative Teen Fiction

I was so excited when I found out West was coming out! I still remember, approximately 15 years ago when I was working at Sembach Library and a shipment of new books came in that included East, by Edith Pattou and The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale – two fairy tale retellings that ended up being my two favorite books of the year. I ordered my own personal copy of both of them, I liked them both so much. The Goose Girl has become the start of an entire series since then, but this is the very first follow-up to East.

Since this is my Newbery committee year, I didn’t get to reread East before reading West as I would have liked to do. But I remembered the basics, from the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” Rose went off with a white bear to save her family, but used a candle to try to see his face and then had to travel east of the sun, west of the moon. In the end, she had to defeat the Troll Queen in order to save him. They were supposed to live happily ever after.

But in this book, we learn that the Troll Queen is not dead. And she’s ready to get revenge, not only on Rose and Charles, but on the entire human race.

Like the fairy tale it all began with, this book is something of a saga. Rose and Charles now have a baby boy and an adopted daughter. As the book begins, Rose was visiting her family in Trondheim while Charles was performing as a court musician in Stockholm. But word comes that there has been a shipwreck of the ship Charles was taking home. There’s something off about the report.

In this book, it’s very much a case of one thing leading to another. Rose ends up taking a journey every bit as taxing as the one that took her east of the sun, west of the moon. Again her quest requires ingenuity, perseverance, and resourcefulness.

But it also requires help from others. Once she finds Charles (that’s the first difficult part), he helps. But so do her brother Neddy and her friend Sib, and so does Estelle, the little girl they adopted, who is kidnapped by the Troll Queen along with their son and watches over him. It turns out she also needs help from the Fates themselves.

The journey takes Rose in every direction on the compass in her quest to save her beloved husband, then her son, and even all humankind.

The Troll Queen is a formidable opponent and frightening in her power and her hatred. But Rose has something stronger in the power of love.

This is another gripping adventure saga with all the resonance of a fairy tale.

edithpattou.com
hmhco.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Friday, February 8th, 2019

The Book of Boy

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
illustrations by Ian Schoenherr

Greenwillow Books, 2018. 278 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Newbery Honor Book
Review written March 7, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.

[Disclaimer: This review was written before I ever discussed the book with the Newbery committee and after only my first reading. The opinions expressed are only mine, and only my first impression.]

After reading the first few chapters of this book, I thought I’d stumbled on a book that had the same basic story as The Journey of Little Charlie, by Christopher Paul Curtis – except in Little Charlie the young innocent was forced to journey with and help a slave catcher, and in The Book of Boy the young innocent was forced to journey with and help a relic thief.

But I was quite wrong. Although The Book of Boy started out this way, the story that followed was completely different from anything I’d read before.

Yes, Boy is young and innocent. He’s a hunchback and doesn’t like the way people are afraid of him and call him a monster. The book is set in medieval Europe, just after a Pestilence has gone through the land. A pilgrim demands his aid in carrying a pack. Boy thinks they are going to protect a relic of Saint Peter, but it turns out the pilgrim will use Boy to steal more relics.

We learn some interesting things about Boy and about the pilgrim along the way. The pilgrim can’t touch any relics of St. Peter, but for Boy, the relic already in the pack warms him and makes it so people don’t notice his hump. Every morning when Boy wakes up, no matter where they have camped, animals curl up and sleep with him. What’s more, after a while we realize all the talking Boy does to animals isn’t just rhetorical. Animals understand Boy and talk to him as well.

Secundus the pilgrim wants to gather seven relics of St. Peter, and he has a compelling reason. And although he is indeed a thief, he grows under our skin as their journey continues.

But Secundus the pilgrim doesn’t win us over as fully as Boy does. He is indeed a young innocent forced to help with thievery – but he learns things along the way about his own true nature which are most surprising.

This is ultimately an uplifting book, full of details about life in medieval times. You’ll enjoy the company of the good-hearted Boy, who can talk with animals and is very surprising.

Here’s what the Newbery committee had to say about this book: “From Murdock’s first line, readers are swept into an epic quest across Europe in 1350 with Boy and a mysterious pilgrim, adventuring to recover seven relics of St. Peter. Layered characters from goats to nuns, lyrical language, and multiple reveals combine to create this powerful story of redemption.”

catherinemurdock.com
epicreads.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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