A young girl from a low-income home discovers a surprising family legacy in English’s debut novel, a darkly funny young-adult fantasy adventure.
Thirteen-year-old Coriander Jones and her younger sister, Autumn, are on the bus to Happy Haven, a summer camp that mostly takes children from poor families, along with a number of friends and neighborhood kids, when their bus driver—or rather the lizardlike creature that seems to have possessed him—suddenly tries to kill them. Shortly after subduing and decapitating him, Coriander and her compatriots learn the truth: This isn’t an ordinary camp but rather one of the last lines of defense between our world and the Old Ones, ancient, Lovecraftian gods who want to tear down the barriers between the universes and take over reality. And so on top of the typical teenager problems, conflicts and such that occur at camp, Coriander also has to worry about fighting off creatures of darkness. She even learns that her “crazy” Aunt Collette is also a warrior in the fight to preserve this universe. Throughout the book, English balances suspenseful situations with a sharp sense of humor. Coriander makes for a fun, unusual first-person narrator for a female-driven YA story, neatly switching from self-deprecating digs at her social status to coping with the burden of being an otherwise everyday kid now learning how to fight actual gods and monsters. Centering on such a tough, self-reliant tomboy of a girl makes for a refreshing break from the angsty, pretty Barbie dolls that populate so much of YA fiction. Meanwhile, Coriander’s repeated warnings to readers to turn away if they would like to read something less frightening is nicely reminiscent of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Coriander’s story doesn’t have quite the bite of that series, and it isn’t a wildly new concept, but for young readers, it’s a nice introduction to urban fantasy and Lovecraft, with an entertaining mythology and even more entertaining characters.
Recommended to youths eager to read about a strong, teenage heroine fighting monsters but who aren’t quite old enough for Buffy.