“Unlike the rest of the City, Gwendolyn’s problem was turning her imagination off.”
Nearly-13-year-old Gwendolyn lives in a city where everything—buildings, clothing, sky—is gray and dismal. She escapes bullying from cruel classmates—and life’s tedium—by using her fertile imagination, fed by neglected books at the Hall of Records. One day, she discovers to her horror that she has begun causing things to happen just by thinking them. A classroom reverie leads Gwendolyn to inadvertently create floppy rabbit ears on Missy, a classmate. When two sinister men in bowlers show up, the stakes grow higher; Gwendolyn’s goals change from saving Missy to saving a city to, eventually, saving several worlds from dark energy related to the Faceless Gentlemen. The adventure is a full one, perhaps too full, including both dystopian and steampunk worldbuilding elements; astonishing beasts; beginning flirtations; hair-raising scrapes; and, finally, a return to Gwendolyn’s City of No Stories. Has she made a difference? The denouement will feel gut-wrenching for readers who have come to love Gwendolyn’s companions, siblings Starling and Sparrow, unless they read carefully to the end, which hints at additional special powers and adventures in the future. Kolonius Thrash, a dark-skinned, teenage, swashbuckling hero with dreadlocks, adds some diversity to the mostly white cast. Frequent direct addresses from the narrator and running jokes add quaintness; the plentiful use of antiquated mental-illness tropes contributes a caustic quality.
Mostly fun; sometimes overwhelming. (Fantasy. 8-12)