I received this book from NetGalley, but I have to confess that I let my 10-year-old daughter read it first. We were on vacation, and she was between books, so I lent her my kindle. I did not get it back until she finished.
Now honestly, this is a perfect middle grade book. It is a book for the kid who is perhaps not yet ready for Harry Potter, or, if they’re like my daughter, the kid who has already read Harry Potter, but just can’t read enough stories with mythical creatures, quests and adventures. There are also some very creative riddles throughout the story. Gabriel, our reluctant hero, has formed a bond with a raven, and the magical bird is going to help him find his father, who has been missing for three years. He has the requisite sidekicks – two girls, and a misunderstood boy — who offer balanced commentary to his plans.
What I liked most about the book is that there is grave danger, but somehow you know it will all work out in the end. It can be fearsome at times, but it is never given over completely to evil. In fact, even the greedy deceitful characters are, at times, sympathetic. My minor quibble with the book is that sometimes the characters said things that just did not seem likely to have come out of their mouths. I would say that it is simply the fact that an adult is writing from a child’s point of view, but I am not sure that’s the case. A perfect example is when Gabriel’s friend says to him that she is jealous of his friendship with the raven. Now admittedly, it might be a better world if we all just put our feelings on the table like that, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never met a kid who came out and admitted something this embarrassing so easily. She might ignore him, give him the silent treatment, or scream at him for nothing at all (oh wait, maybe I’m talking about women, oops), but rarely would she admit what’s really bothering her. Could be just me, but it felt odd, and it is one of her repeated refrains.
At the beginning of the story, Gabriel’s aunt and caretaker does a favor to an old school friend and lets her and her daughter live with them after they lose their home. This good deed, of course does not go unpunished, and they are all forced to live under the woman’s dictator-like rule, and eat her inedible meals. Why? It seemed bizarre that anyone would let a stranger take over their lives so completely, especially when that person is indebted to them. I understand that the author wanted a kind of Cinderella-like structure; but here it felt like a rickety, unbelievable premise.
In the end, it really only matters what the kids who read it think, not the skeptical old grownups. My daughter loved this book. She wanted me to read it the minute she finished, and she was willing to listen to the whole thing again if I wanted to read it out loud. So even before I wrote this, I recommended this book. It is a terrific story that you can feel confident putting in the hands of a middle grade reader, and you will have quite a few hours of perfect silence as they read, and read, and read.