A 12-year-old white boy finds out he’s special in a new middle-grade fantasy series.
Arlo Finch has just arrived in the tiny town of Pine Mountain, atop the high peaks of Colorado. Times are tight, and Arlo, his sister, and their mother have moved into the crumbling family home with his taxidermist uncle. Arlo, who has one green eye and one brown, isn’t in Pine Mountain long before he makes friends with (the requisite girl and boy sidekicks) supersmart Indian-American doctors’ daughter Indra Srinivasaraghavan-Jones and Chinese-American STEM genius Henry Wu. When Arlo joins the Rangers, a mixed-gender scouting troop, he’s made privy to thunderclaps (literal hand-clapping that sounds like thunder) and snaplights (a snap of the fingers that creates illumination) along with traditional scouting tasks such as tying knots and pitching tents. As Arlo works toward earning his first rank—Squirrel—questions mount. What is the Wonder? What and where are the Long Woods, the Realm, and the Valley of Fire? How is Arlo connected to a long-lost girl only he can see? Who wants to kill him, and why? Arlo is a smart, likable boy, but his story adds little new to the genre. The mountain setting and eerie house filled with stuffed and mounted animals provide an evocative sense of place for Arlo’s adventure, but characters and plot feel too familiar, particularly a Goblet of Fire–like Ranger challenge.
Atmospheric at best, formulaic at worst. (Fantasy. 8-12)