CITY OF THE BEASTS

A moody American teen finds himself up the Amazon without a paddle in this aimlessly meandering and cliché-ridden fantasy. Alex’s mother’s struggle with cancer has forced him into the care of his grandmother, a writer for International Geographic magazine, which has mounted an expedition into the heart of the rainforest to observe the strange monsters known only as the Beasts. Predictably enough, the expedition team consists of a variety of types, including a beautiful doctor, a dashing guide and his mystical daughter Nadia, an egotistical anthropologist, a sinister Indian aide, and a number of expendable supernumeraries. After the requisite agonizing trip up the longest river in the world, Alex and Nadia are finally ushered by an ancient shaman into the Eye of the World. There they encounter the People of the Mist, a—surprise, surprise—pristine indigenous civilization, who have evolved a symbiotic relationship with their gods, the Beasts. The Beasts, it turns out, are gigantic sloths—leftovers from some prehistoric era that have by dint of their exceptionally slow metabolism and consequently long lives developed some intelligence and even rudimentary language. Alex and Nadia are rechristened for their totem animals (Jaguar and Eagle) and go on perilous spirit quests. The jacket blurb boasts that the novel is “teeming with magical realism”; leaving aside the question of whether magical realism can actually teem, this story, Allende’s (Portrait in Sepia, 2001, etc.) first for children, does anything but. There are some fantastic touches, but most of what passes for magical realism seems introduced only for narrative convenience (such as Alex’s sudden ability to transcend linguistic barriers by “listening with his heart”). Other potentially fantastic elements are drearily reduced by pseudo-scientific explanation to the realm of the mundane (such as the true nature of the Beasts). The narrative as a whole suffers from extraordinarily labored language: “ ‘Remember whom you’re speaking to, you little twerp,’ the writer calmly interrupted, seizing him firmly by the shirt and paralyzing him with the glare of her fearsome blue eyes.” Whether this is the fault of the original writing or the translation from the Spanish is immaterial; this flaw, combined with the general pointlessness of the plot, makes this offering—all 416 pages of it—an excruciating experience. (Fiction. 10+)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-050918-X

Page Count: 416

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2002

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A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula.

HOCUS POCUS AND THE ALL-NEW SEQUEL

In honor of its 25th anniversary, a Disney Halloween horror/comedy film gets a sequel to go with its original novelization.

Three Salem witches hanged in 1693 for stealing a child’s life force are revived in 1993 when 16-year-old new kid Max completes a spell by lighting a magical candle (which has to be kindled by a virgin to work). Max and dazzling, popular classmate Allison have to keep said witches at bay until dawn to save all of the local children from a similar fate. Fast-forward to 2018: Poppy, daughter of Max and Allison, inadvertently works a spell that sends her parents and an aunt to hell in exchange for the gleeful witches. With help from her best friend, Travis, and classmate Isabella, on whom she has a major crush, Poppy has only hours to keep the weird sisters from working more evil. The witches, each daffier than the last, supply most of the comedy as well as plenty of menace but end up back in the infernal regions. There’s also a talking cat, a talking dog, a gaggle of costumed heroines, and an oblique reference to a certain beloved Halloween movie. Traditional Disney wholesomeness is spiced, not soured, by occasional innuendo and a big twist in the sequel. Poppy and her family are white, while Travis and Isabella are both African-American.

A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula. (Fantasy. 10-15)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-368-02003-9

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Freeform/Disney

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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Wrought with admirable skill—the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly...

THE GIVER

From the Giver Quartet series , Vol. 1

In a radical departure from her realistic fiction and comic chronicles of Anastasia, Lowry creates a chilling, tightly controlled future society where all controversy, pain, and choice have been expunged, each childhood year has its privileges and responsibilities, and family members are selected for compatibility.

As Jonas approaches the "Ceremony of Twelve," he wonders what his adult "Assignment" will be. Father, a "Nurturer," cares for "newchildren"; Mother works in the "Department of Justice"; but Jonas's admitted talents suggest no particular calling. In the event, he is named "Receiver," to replace an Elder with a unique function: holding the community's memories—painful, troubling, or prone to lead (like love) to disorder; the Elder ("The Giver") now begins to transfer these memories to Jonas. The process is deeply disturbing; for the first time, Jonas learns about ordinary things like color, the sun, snow, and mountains, as well as love, war, and death: the ceremony known as "release" is revealed to be murder. Horrified, Jonas plots escape to "Elsewhere," a step he believes will return the memories to all the people, but his timing is upset by a decision to release a newchild he has come to love. Ill-equipped, Jonas sets out with the baby on a desperate journey whose enigmatic conclusion resonates with allegory: Jonas may be a Christ figure, but the contrasts here with Christian symbols are also intriguing.

Wrought with admirable skill—the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly provocative novel. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: April 1, 1993

ISBN: 978-0-395-64566-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1993

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