The Book of Boy

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
First sentence: “This story, like another, begins with an apple.”
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Review copy provided by the author.
Content: There is some challenging language, because it’s set in medieval times, but with the large print, short(ish) length, and illustrations, a younger kid/reluctant reader could enjoy it. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Things that surprised me about The Book of Boy: How religious it was (though I don’t know why that did; it’s set in 1350 in Italy, and religion was a huge part of everyday life), how much I didn’t mind it’s religious nature, and how charmed I was by Boy and the pilgrim he went on a quest with.

Things I’m unsure about: the speculative(ish) element of it. See, Boy is a humpback child, and was told to keep his hump covered and hidden and never touch it. He’s shunned because of this — this felt “true”, even though I don’t know if people who didn’t look whole were shunned, but that’s what stories have always led me to believe — by everyone except a wayward pilgrim on a quest to collect the relics of St. Peter. But, once on the quest, Boy discovers that his hump is not an ordinary one, which is a blessing and a curse.

Things I really enjoyed: I loved the narrative style of the book. I think Murdock caught the inner voice of this naive character, who was doing what he was supposed to, and unsure about his own future and any changes. I loved that Boy could talk to animals, and that the animals helped him when he needed it. And I really enjoyed the whole quest: there were challenges along the way, and both Boy and the pilgrim needed each other. It was very sweet and charming.

Overall, a good book.

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A Wizard of Earthsea

by Urusla K. LeGuin
First sentence: “The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.”
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Content: There’s nothing objectionable, but it has an “older” feel to it. It’s in the YA sections (grades 6-8) of the bookstore. (I think. It might be in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section…)

I read this a long time ago — not as a kid, but before I started keeping a blog — and was underwhelmed. Since LeGuin recently passed away, I thought I’d give it another try.

And… I was still underwhelmed. The basic plot is the journey of a boy, Ged, becoming a wizard. He goes to school, unleashes a demon, fights a dragon, runs from said unleashed demon for years, until he finally faces his inner darkness and becomes a powerful wizard. Voila!

And that’s the problem with this book. Maybe it was the style of fantasy writing in the 1960s, but now? It just feels all surface and no depth. This happens and then that happens and we never really get to know Ged. We just follow him on his adventures. So when there’s this huge climax at the end where Ged fights the demon and names him and it’s all supposed to be so powerful, it’s just… not. I can see the influence she had on other writers: definitely Gaiman and it felt a little like Dianna Wynne Jones as well.

But, the afterword? The afterword that was written in 2012 was fantastic. LeGuin’s personal voice is smart and sassy and gave insights that I know I missed when I was reading it. So, maybe what I need to do is pick up some of LeGuin’s essays.

The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes

adventurersguideby Wade Albert White
First sentence: “At Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children, every orphan is treated with the same amount of disdain and neglect.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 13, 2016
Full disclosure: I had dinner with the author at Children’s Institute, and think he’s delightful.
Review copy provided by the publisher. I met the author at Children’s Institute 4
Content: There’s some biggish words, and a wee bit of violence, and maybe some of the humor will go over the heads of the younger kids, but mostly it’s just fine for the middle grade (3-5th) grade set, which is where the book is located at the store.

Anne has spent her whole life at Saint Lupin’s Institute, working and wishing she knew where she came from. She has a plan: when she gets to leave when she turns 13 (everyone is kicked out because the Hierarchy stops supporting them), she’s going to go adventuring and looking for her past. However, when her birthday comes, the Matron denies Anne the right to leave. That starts a chain of events that leads Anne to accidentally stealing a gauntlet (a metal hand thingy) and a prophecy medallion, that starts a Rightful Heir Quest (an unheard of Level 13!), which gives Anne and her friends Penelope and Hiro, four days which to fulfill. It’s not an easy thing: solving riddles, finding weird robots, traveling by fireball, but someone’s got to do it. And maybe save the world (and pass Questing 101) while they’re at it.

I haven’t had this much fun reading a book since The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. It’s got the same sort of off-beat humor, full of puns and plain silliness. It’s different though; the world that Anne is on is one that isn’t fully fleshed out. It feels like an old-fashioned fantasy, but there’s robots and computer screens and elevators… and mention of an Old World. Is it scifi or dystopian?  I wasn’t sure. (Actually, I do have a working theory of the world, but I’m going to keep it to myself, until I figure out whether I’m right or not.) But, in spite of those questions, I enjoyed this one thoroughly. It was fun, it was funny, it was clever, and it was pretty much exactly what I wanted out of a middle grade fantasy.

I’ll definitely be picking up the next one when it comes out.