by H. M. Bouwman
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Children's Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Set on fictional islands off northeast America in 1787, this story features two twelve-year-old girls from different cultures who must join forces to save themselves, their people, and one special baby.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
I have to admit it: The cover sucked me into reading this one. It looks like the artwork might be the work of Nicoletta Ceccoli, though my Kindle edition had no information about the cover artist. While fanciful, it's a fairly accurate representation of the girls in the story. However, it's also a bit juvenile, and should have given me a clue about what sort of tone to expect from the story. I like middle grade fiction when it doesn't remind me that it's written for kids; unfortunately, this book failed on that account.
To sum up the basic plot: This book takes place on a fictional group of islands off the eastern coast of North America in the late 1700s. The Colay are the native people already living there. The Anglish (as they were called in this book) are a group of convicts who were on their way to the colonies to be indentured servants. They were shipwrecked on the Colay's islands, and proceeded to act like regular imperialists. They set up their own British-style government and, eventually, cast the Colay off the largest island (for reasons that are further explained in the story). Lucy is a Colay girl who lives on one of the smaller islands. For reasons unknown at the beginning of the story, all the Colay males have been cursed, which makes them turn into stone. When Lucy's mother gives birth to a baby boy, Lucy is to take the baby up the mountain to a special statue garden and leave him there to turn into stone. But he doesn't turn into stone... which sets Lucy on a journey to break the curse that eventually involves Snowcap, the governor-in-waiting of the Anglish.
A big problem I had with this book was the characters. First, their names. I read all 270 pages of this book, and even by the end, I was still mixing up Lucy and Snowcap. Giving their children names of the other culture was supposed to have been a sign of respect, but it just confused me. Every time I read "Lucy", I'd think "English girl". Constantly having to remind myself throughout the story was annoying. And it didn't help that (especially at first) both girls were pretty unpleasant, immature, and snarly... making them even more difficult to tell apart once they got together. Philip the tutor was an amusing character, and I didn't mind Adam, the Minister of Transportation (he took care of the horses), but the villains were fairly weak. We know who they are from the beginning, and yet we really don't know much about them (other than secondhand bits of information from other people). Renard was some sort of sorcerer. What, exactly, could he do? Where did he learn how to do it? When someone just starts waving magic about only when it's convenient for the story, it seems a bit inconsistent. (For example, if you have such powerful magic, why do you need to get rid of your enemies by poisoning their oatmeal?)
As I mentioned earlier, the writing in this book seemed a bit juvenile. It wasn't bad; it just seemed a little bit... light. Technically, the writing was nearly flawless, and that's something I usually find pretty impressive in today's crop of books for young readers. However, the tone just didn't work for me. The story is also told from a third-person point of view, with quite a bit of jumping around between different characters' thoughts. It was a bit much, at times.
My biggest issue, however, is probably with the pacing. I was going along quite merrily, enjoying the story... until I hit page 215. At that point, the pace really goes wacky. We'd spent days with the girls as they slowly made their way toward the desert, and then within a few chapters the various characters were bouncing around all over the place. Into the desert, out of the desert, back to town, off the island, onto another island, back to town... It was almost enough to give a reader whiplash. And then everything wrapped up so neatly, so simply, that I felt quite cheated... and a bit insulted as a reader. Are middle graders, often readers of sophisticated fiction like Harry Potter or A Wrinkle in Time, really going to be satisfied with such a pat resolution? Somehow, I have my doubts.
So, while I give credit to the author for an interesting idea, I can't really recommend this one. The confusing character names, weird pacing, and unsatisfying ending were just too much for me to get past. It might be suitable for readers on the younger end of the middle-grade range... but it probably won't be of much interest to more sophisticated 12-year-olds or adults who read MG novels for enjoyment.
Overall: 3.14 out of 5