Steven must fight for his own life as well as for his baby brother’s when he’s offered a chance to exchange human life for something better.
Steve has figured out strategies to cope with many of his anxieties and OCD behaviors, but this summer the pressure is on. Readers see through Steve’s eyes his parents' fears for the new baby, whose congenital health issues are complicated and unusual. Readers may find parallels with Skellig in the sibling anxiety and the odd encounter with a winged creature—but here the stranger is part of something sinister indeed. “We’ve come to help,” assures the winged, slightly ethereal being who offers a solution to Steven in a dream. “We come when people are scared or in trouble. We come when there’s grief.” Oppel deftly conveys the fear and dislocation that can overwhelm a family: there’s the baby born with problems, the ways that affects the family, and Steve’s own struggles to feel and be normal. Everything feels a bit skewed, conveying the experience of being in transition from the familiar to the threateningly unfamiliar. Klassen’s several illustrations in graphite, with their linear formality and stillness and only mere glimpses of people, nicely express this sense of worry and tension. Steve’s battle with the enemy is terrifying, moving from an ominous, baleful verbal conflict to a pitched, physical, life-threatening battle.
Compelling and accessible. (Fantasy. 9-12)