A Florida teen unhappy at home and tormented by bullies at school discovers a dreamlike world where she can escape and that may be more real than she knows in this YA fantasy debut.
Ever since her beloved Gramma Rose died, Sadie Myers’ life has been immersed in melancholy. Her once-cheerful parents are perpetually grumpy, and Sadie’s alienated others, including former best friend Melanie Greene. Having no friends makes her an easy target for resident bully Dave Jablonsky, who spearheads the students’ unremitting ridicule. Sadie dreams of a terrifying shadow man chasing her but takes solace in visions of her grandmother and Rose’s lost cat, Barnaby. Barnaby leads Sadie to a towering tree, whose voice the girl can hear, and a gateway to another realm, Mystashan. Sadie evidently holds the key to Mystashan, a place she soon prefers to the world she’s currently living in. Meanwhile, amnesiac Finn Montgomery awakens to foster parents who tell him his name and estimated age (13). A voice in his head tells him to play the part of a nice guy, but Finn’s prone to violence, which ultimately lands him in an institution and later juvenile hall. Plagued by visions of an unknown girl, the murderous Finn will somehow cross paths with Sadie. At the same time, Sadie’s disturbed by recurring and menacing flashes of red. Before enlightening readers about Mystashan, the authors relay a sound drama of a despondent girl and psychologically unstable boy. It’s unquestionably riveting, even if it’s hard to stomach the deplorable Dave pushing Sadie into a mud puddle or Finn’s rampant cruelty, calling his juvenile hall cellmate Beagle without learning his name. Romance for Sadie seems doomed: boyfriend Christopher has gone to New York, and the nervous heroine introduces herself to the charming Sam as Annie. But the story’s not all gloomy, as Sadie encounters fantastical characters, like Thelo, a somewhat reptilian but good-natured guide to the mysterious realm. Sadie’s link to Finn and the truth about Mystashan (is it real or only in the girl’s head?) are best left unspoiled. Suffice it to say that the Engels sufficiently resolve the story while leaving nagging questions to be tackled, presumably in Book Two.
An otherworldly setting, grounded by irresistible melodrama and an unshakeable protagonist worth rooting for.