THE WATCHER

A teenager and her little sister discover that they are pieces in a game played across worlds in this suspenseful tale from the Canadian author of The Dark Garden (1997). Though set apart by her exotic white hair and skin, plus an oddly shaped birthmark, Emma has always been the sensible, dependable worrier of the family. She has plenty to worry about, too. As her mother struggles to bring the family bee farm back to profitability, and her sister Summer, subject to ever more frequent spells of weakness, seems to be fading away before her eyes, the old stone circle that her father, an environmental artist, is rebuilding seems to be attracting both odd incidents and mysterious strangers to the area. Suddenly, Emma is shuttling between her world and another, where two moons hang in the sky and overheard conspirators discuss a Game, and a Child, in chilling terms. Emma slowly pieces the puzzle together, identifying the Game’s powerful Players, figuring out the Rules, and discovering her role—and Summer’s too. As it turns out, they are both “Pithwitchen,” changelings sent to replace dead human newborns, and Summer is heir to a throne in that other place. From ominous beginning to tense climax, this page-turner, reminiscent in ways both of William Sleator’s Interstellar Pig (1984) and Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Moorchild (1996), will keep readers guessing—and as the Game ends in a draw, they’ll be set up for sequels, too. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 1-55074-829-7

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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FABLEHAVEN

Witty repartee between the central characters, as well as the occasional well-done set piece, isn’t enough to hold this hefty debut together. Teenagers Seth and Kendra are dropped off by traveling parents at their grandfather’s isolated Connecticut estate, and soon discover why he’s so reluctant to have them—the place is a secret haven for magical creatures, both benign and decidedly otherwise. Those others are held in check by a complicated, unwritten and conveniently malleable Compact that is broken on Midsummer Eve, leaving everyone except Kendra captive in a hidden underground chamber with a newly released demon. Mull’s repeated use of the same device to prod the plot along comes off as more labored than comic: Over and over an adult issues a stern but vague warning; Seth ignores it; does some mischief and is sorry afterward. Sometimes Kendra joins in trying to head off her uncommonly dense brother. She comes into her own at the rousing climax, but that takes a long time to arrive; stick with Michael Buckley’s “Sisters Grimm” tales, which carry a similar premise in more amazing and amusing directions. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-59038-581-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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A YEAR DOWN YONDER

From the Grandma Dowdel series , Vol. 2

Set in 1937 during the so-called “Roosevelt recession,” tight times compel Mary Alice, a Chicago girl, to move in with her grandmother, who lives in a tiny Illinois town so behind the times that it doesn’t “even have a picture show.”

This winning sequel takes place several years after A Long Way From Chicago (1998) leaves off, once again introducing the reader to Mary Alice, now 15, and her Grandma Dowdel, an indomitable, idiosyncratic woman who despite her hard-as-nails exterior is able to see her granddaughter with “eyes in the back of her heart.” Peck’s slice-of-life novel doesn’t have much in the way of a sustained plot; it could almost be a series of short stories strung together, but the narrative never flags, and the book, populated with distinctive, soulful characters who run the gamut from crazy to conventional, holds the reader’s interest throughout. And the vignettes, some involving a persnickety Grandma acting nasty while accomplishing a kindness, others in which she deflates an overblown ego or deals with a petty rivalry, are original and wildly funny. The arena may be a small hick town, but the battle for domination over that tiny turf is fierce, and Grandma Dowdel is a canny player for whom losing isn’t an option. The first-person narration is infused with rich, colorful language—“She was skinnier than a toothpick with termites”—and Mary Alice’s shrewd, prickly observations: “Anybody who thinks small towns are friendlier than big cities lives in a big city.”

Year-round fun. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 978-0-8037-2518-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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