by Sarah Beth Durst
First sentence: “‘Almost there,’ Grandpa said.”
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Lily has lived her whole life with her Grandpa and her mom in Philadelphia. Never gone anywhere, never done much, mostly because her mom isn’t quite, well, completely all there. She’s artistic and fun and interesting, but is also subject to brain hiccups.
Grandpa, on the other hand, is a graduate of Princeton, and goes to the reunions every year. And this year, the spring of Lily’s junior year, he’s decided to take both Lily and her mom along, much to Lily’s excitement: Princeton is exactly where she wants to go to school.
But once she gets there, she discovers that not everything is exactly as it seems. The gargoyles talk. Her father is a Knight. There’s a boy with black and orange hair. And there’s a whole alternative Princeton, full of magical creatures. And Lily’s been given a test to find the Key. Little does she know how deeply her family is involved in all this.
It’s a clever premise, making an old institution like Princeton magical, creating a whole alternate universe that’s connected through the Princeton gate. Durst plays with ideas of unity and cooperation as well as touching on fear of the unknown and how that tends to make groups overly cautious. She also addresses the idea of doing wrong for the right reasons. There’s adventure and romance (a bit of a love triangle) as well.
But, even with all that, it didn’t quite work for me. I usually love Durst’s stuff, but this one felt off. The romance didn’t quite work, even though the boys were more than awesome. The bad guy wasn’t evil enough for me. And then there’s the whole fact that she introduced a whole new character two-thirds of the way through the book. Generally, that doesn’t bother me, but it was enough of a plot twist that it threw me for a loop. It changed the game, and it made things a lot darker than they were initially setting out to be. And while I liked the dark element, the timing felt off to me.
That said, it really made me want to visit Princeton.