After a slow buildup, this middle-grade fantasy offers some intriguing elements as it hurtles toward an exciting, if abrupt, ending.
Emma, a 12-year-old Vietnamese-American, misses her older sister Helena, who has vanished mysteriously. Emma’s parents have spent all of their resources trying to find Helena, so readers first meet the family as they move into a trailer park populated by supernatural beings, aka “crags.” Neglected by her parents and taunted by her schoolmates, Emma’s vulnerability makes her easy prey for Jack, a talking cat who has holed up in their new home. Jack convinces her to take on an unexpected role that includes magical powers. Adventures ensue as Emma learns how to use her new abilities and seeks her lost sister. Each chapter begins with an entry from “CragWiki.org,” a device that offers the authors an additional, if occasionally awkward, method of worldbuilding. Unfortunately, Emma and her family are sketchily drawn, which makes it hard to care much about the outcome. On the other hand, the bad guys are quite compelling—the hag next door, for example, is deliciously creepy. Readers who persevere will find themselves caught up in the action and fascinated by the exquisitely imagined and decidedly different fairies.
Clunky in spots, this nonetheless intriguing debut will likely appeal to fantasy fanatics; others may wish to wait for a more polished follow-up. (Fantasy. 10-12)