by Steven Arntson
First sentence: “The last day of summer break before the start of my seventh grade year was the first time I ever got punched in the face.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s some pretty dark subject matter — kidnapping and out-of-body experiences. Plus there’s romance, but nothing too mature. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, though it’ll probably be of interest to the older end (and maybe into the 6th grade).
It’s the summer of 1963, right before seventh grade, and Henry Nilsson is pretty sure nothing exciting is going to happen. His dad is being laid off at the railroad and they’re having to tighten their belts at home (they even sold the TV!). Henry like-likes his twin sister’s best friend, Nikki, but has no idea what to tell him. And his best friend, Alan’s, brother bullying has increased.
Then, two things happen to change the trajectory of Henry’s summer: Alan’s brother goes missing. And they discover a book to teach them how to have an out-of-body experience, called “subtle” travel. Once they figure out how, they enter the subtle world, where things aren’t as nice as they seem. And where there’s some pretty scary things going on in them thar woods.
On the one hand, I enjoyed this one. I liked the historical detail, which was never the point of the book, but rather just background to give it some weight. I liked the friendship between Henry and the rest, including his sister. I liked that both Nikki and Alan were people of color — Nikki is Asian; Alan, Latino — but that it was never really an issue. (Well, it is, once.) I liked the mystery, the discovery of what was going on with Alan’s brother, and the realization that even though he’s often mean, he has some good in him.
What I didn’t like was the whole speculative fiction part of it. The subtle travel was weird (Seriously.) and I was never really able to suspend my disbelief enough to make it work for me. There was just too much left underdeveloped, that was just plain weird.
But, perhaps, those are adult concerns creeping into a middle grade book. It is a dark book, one that’s kind of creepy, and for those who like a slight creep factor to their book, it’s a good one. And perhaps, the positives outweigh the negatives.