In this launch of Chute’s (Expecting Sunshine, 2017) fantasy trilogy, a family travels to a bizarre and dangerous parallel world.
Fourteen-year-old Ella Wellsley was only 10 when doctors found a brain tumor at the base of her skull. Six months ago, the growing tumor rendered her incapable of speech. Now, her grandfather Archie has brought Ella and her mom, Tessa, on a vacation cruise through Spain’s Canary Islands. Tessa is still angry at Ella’s father, Arden, who packed some belongings and disappeared two years ago. It turns out that Archie has a hidden agenda with this trip: He hopes to find both his son and a cure for Ella by using information in Arden’s notebooks. Archie tries to make a deal with a yellow-eyed, untrustworthy being named Zeno, but it doesn’t go as expected, and the entire cruise ship is sent through a portal to the magical island of Jarr-Wya. The quest for Ella’s cure temporarily takes a back seat as the Wellsleys and others get mixed up in a conflict between the sandlike Millia; the red, sometimes-fiery Olearon; and the Bangols, who’d banished Zeno, one of their own, to Earth. When the Bangols take Ella captive, Tessa and Archie summon their strength—and a few allies—to bring her home. The characters in Chute’s story exhibit as many virtues as they do flaws; even Tessa and Archie are occasionally selfish despite their noble intentions. This precipitates numerous plot turns as characters surprise one another with a good deed or a sinister turn. Ella provides the voice of the novel with her periodic first-person perspective, and her varying forms of communication—miming, drawing in a sketchbook—make her the most memorable character. Chute details the beauty of Jarr-Wya as well as grotesque moments; at one point, film from Tessa’s eyes “wriggles on her fingers like hyper slugs.” The author’s literary proficiency is complemented by her illustrations. Although the images are supposed to be Ella’s crude ink paintings, their solid shading gives them vibrancy, even in black and white.
A twisty tale with an otherworldly setting that readers will happily revisit.