In this exceptional debut novel for middle graders, Annie’s quest to retrieve a blown-away birds’ nest becomes more magical, dangerous and urgent than she ever anticipated.
This magical adventure is set on the coast of New Zealand, where Annie lives with her mother, little brother and father—a lighthouse keeper whose unexpected absence has just begun to concern his family. The story begins on the cusp of Annie’s 10th birthday, when Annie’s usual visit to her unusual friends—a row of hedges—turns into a grand adventure that has hints of The Neverending Story and A Wrinkle in Time. By the time her birthday has arrived, Annie has learned that being “dappled” is a good thing, and she has proven to herself that she is capable of good decision-making and heroic bravery. Elements of magical realism fold beautifully into the story, as do the moments when Annie is testing a young person’s version of situational ethics. The warm family relationships add to the story’s charm: “On one hand, her brother was loud and sticky and annoying, but on the other hand, he knew interesting things about animals and snuggled up when she read to him.” Nature facts mingle easily with the supernatural, and gentle humor is omnipresent.
Both cinematic and pleasingly literary, this will keep readers entranced. (Fantasy. 7-11)