In this middle-grade fantasy novel, a girl steps through a magic barrier into a new realm, where she tries to help creatures suffering from a drought.
Eleven-year-old Alicia loves nothing more than the summers she spends with her parents at their cabin near Cascade, Idaho. The lake is a great place for swimming, snorkeling, and observing nature—something that Alicia, who loves earth science, especially enjoys. One day, she and her father row across the lake, but their day is cut short by rain. Just as they’re about to leave, Alicia spies something strange out of the corner of her eye. When she stops trying to focus on it, “suddenly, startlingly, everything pop[s] into clarity” for the girl, who steps forward and finds herself in a new and different reality. As her father searches for her frantically back home, Alicia befriends talking animals in the new world—called the “Wild Side” by its inhabitants. Mickey, a squirrel, explains that the Wild Side is suffering from “The Drying,” a drought caused by Gran’Tree, a tree so enormous that his branches block the sun and his roots suck up all the water. With the help of her new friends, Alicia goes on a dangerous journey to Gran’Tree, hoping that she can convince him to open the barrier, send her home, and end the Drying. Illustrator Allen’s (Four Decades of Paintings & Poems, 2014, etc.) lovely, sensitive black-and-white images accompany the text well. Foster structures his debut novel along the archetypal lines of The Wizard of Oz, which also features a human girl, unusual companions, and a risky journey to ask favors of an all-powerful being. This novel lacks Oz author L. Frank Baum’s loony inventiveness, however. Still, Alicia does come across as an intelligent, science-minded heroine for the modern era, and the story has a fresh ecological focus. Some perplexing authorial choices work against this theme, however; foxes, who are necessary predators, are cast as “evil,” for example, and a tree—often an emblem of ecological balance—hardly seems appropriate as a selfish, resource-stealing villain.
A well-illustrated story that makes a few missteps but features an appealing heroine.