An American teen encounters monsters both fantastical and human in the land of his birth.
After a fire destroys their home, Tomas and his parents move to Slovakia, a country Tomas hasn't seen since he was 5 years old. He's unconcerned about the move; scarred from a childhood fire and painfully shy, Tomas hasn't got any friends to leave behind. Trencín, at first, seems wonderful. There's a truly fabulous castle, and he's made his first real friend: his cousin Katka. But Katka is dangerously ill, and Tomas' attempts to help are complicated by his first experiences with racism. In the United States, Tomas is white; in Slovakia, the olive skin he inherited from his Roma grandfather marks him as a Gypsy and a valid target for abuse. Nothing can help Tomas—and more importantly, Katka—except the mythical creatures Tomas started seeing almost as soon as he landed in Slovakia. It's unclear whether he can trust the watery vodník or the fire víla, but they both promised to help. A first encounter with racism blends well with a compelling fantasy adventure (although Tomas's family, lacking any Romani culture or traditions, reiterates some of racism themselves; his mother explains how they are worthy of praise because they are "not like other Roma").
A shy boy blossoms in this surprisingly witty debut. (author's note, further reading) (Fantasy. 11-16)