Like many kids, Max thinks his mandatory summer vacation will be boring. He’s terribly wrong.
Max Rigdon, a strong-willed 12-year-old, was sent to spend the summer with his “crazy” grandfather. Max is angry because his departure will mean losing the starting pitcher position on the baseball team. He’s sure he’s about to have a terrible summer. He’s almost right, although events at Grandpa’s house transpire quite differently than he imagined. Some dark scenes set the stage early: As Max walks from the bus stop to Grandpa’s house, the neighbors chant menacingly at him. Later that night, on his first night away from home, Max has a disturbing nightmare that is something of a premonition. “These things can’t be real. There has to be a logical explanation for all of this,” his new friend Cindy tells him. The explanation, it turns out, is that Max’s grandfather is a gatekeeper, traveling to and from other dimensions, fighting evil and trying to keep it away from this world. But some nasty elements have slipped in, and it’s up to Max, Cindy and Grandpa to right the world and prevent the destruction of life as we know it. While it’s apparent that Grandpa, Max and company are on the right side of the fight, there’s no mention of a higher power or godlike figure; the wars in the various worlds Max visits are being fought over basic concepts such as freedom. By steering clear of religious overtones and mixing a little magic with technology, Max’s story is likely to appeal to many young readers while it avoids offending some of their parents’ sensibilities. Max isn’t fully developed in this first installment in the Gatekeeper series, although he does grow from a somewhat dubious, unwilling participant to an eager protector of the human race. Rather than describing his characters’ thoughts and feelings at length and including great detail in scenes and settings, Cochrane’s writing emphasizes action, which, along with the more fantastical elements, may appeal to reluctant readers.
A fast-paced fantasy for preteens who are ready for something meatier than the average chapter book.