Goblin Secrets

by William Alexander
ages: 9+
First sentence: “Rownie woke when Graba knocked on the ceiling from the other side.”
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Rownie is the youngest “sibling” in Graba’s group of Grubs. Abandoned after his older brother, Rowan, disappeared, he was taken in by Graba, and sent on errands. Rownie’s town is not a happy place: the mayor has banned all theater, except for those put on by those already “changed”, the goblins. Additionally, Graba has a tendency to mind-control her Grubs into doing her will.

So, when Rownie happens upon a theater troop in the park, and they invite him to join them, he does. It turns out that this troop happened to know Rowan, and know that he’s an essential part in keeping back the coming flood.

I’m going to have to stop here; I’m not sure that summarizing this book is going to make much sense. It’s been nominated for a National Book Award this year, and so someone must have thought there was some merit in the story. Admittedly, while reading it, I didn’t dislike it. The structure is very theater-inspired, dividing the chapters into Acts and Scenes. But even more than that, it felt like watching a play. I can see why it was nominated, it’s gorgeously written and definitely the epitome of High Fantasy. But, I’m not sure I really liked it.

I’ve been trying, since I finished it, to figure out why. It wasn’t the story, or the characters, or the writing. In fact, I think this might make a good read-aloud. Perhaps it was that it all felt so… affected. Rather than being smooth and effortless, I felt like Alexander was trying too hard to Make A Fantasy and Tell A Story. And I never really connected to the story he was trying to tell.

But, honestly? It was probably just me.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.) 

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