An intriguingly exciting hero’s journey that’s also beautifully thoughtful and humane.

BRADLEY’S DRAGONS

A boy must discover his unusual heritage to save himself and his family in this middle-grade novel.

When he was 9 years old, Bradley Nash was threatened by a strange man whom his father called a “hunter.” Bradley escaped, but now—three years later—he has no memory of these events. Nearly 12, he lives in a Florida trailer park with his family. It’s been a quiet life—until just before his birthday, when Bradley gets an unexpected present from his parents: a handwritten book titled Mastering the Gallu Draig. The illustrations depict dragons, and the text includes mysterious aphorisms like “The most important part of your journey is choosing your direction” and “What you need is always more powerful than what you want.” Meanwhile, the hunter is again targeting Bradley and others, this time with some dangerous allies. With the book comes an astonishing family secret that both explains why the hunter is after him and gives the boy a crucial task: Bradley must figure out who he truly is and what he cares about most. A dramatic showdown will test his ability to come of age. In Matthews’ third dragon-themed middle-grade adventure, this one in a real-world setting, he more than fulfills the promise of his earlier fantasy novels. His writing is uniformly excellent, whether untangling complex lore with smart exposition or presenting the inner world of a young hero whose vulnerabilities (such as a debilitating fear of strangers) and caring nature make him very appealing. Despite its magical elements, Bradley’s quest matches well with every adolescent’s need for self-understanding, coming to terms with their family, and finding a life path. His leap into maturity is especially well handled: The odyssey is both suspenseful and deeply moving.

An intriguingly exciting hero’s journey that’s also beautifully thoughtful and humane.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73307-774-3

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Second Story Up

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the...

TUCK EVERLASTING

At a time when death has become an acceptable, even voguish subject in children's fiction, Natalie Babbitt comes through with a stylistic gem about living forever. 

Protected Winnie, the ten-year-old heroine, is not immortal, but when she comes upon young Jesse Tuck drinking from a secret spring in her parents' woods, she finds herself involved with a family who, having innocently drunk the same water some 87 years earlier, haven't aged a moment since. Though the mood is delicate, there is no lack of action, with the Tucks (previously suspected of witchcraft) now pursued for kidnapping Winnie; Mae Tuck, the middle aged mother, striking and killing a stranger who is onto their secret and would sell the water; and Winnie taking Mae's place in prison so that the Tucks can get away before she is hanged from the neck until....? Though Babbitt makes the family a sad one, most of their reasons for discontent are circumstantial and there isn't a great deal of wisdom to be gleaned from their fate or Winnie's decision not to share it. 

However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the first week in August when this takes place to "the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning") help to justify the extravagant early assertion that had the secret about to be revealed been known at the time of the action, the very earth "would have trembled on its axis like a beetle on a pin." (Fantasy. 9-11)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1975

ISBN: 0312369816

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1975

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Not for the faint-hearted—who are mostly adults anyway—but for stouthearted kids who love a brush with the sinister:...

CORALINE

A magnificently creepy fantasy pits a bright, bored little girl against a soul-eating horror that inhabits the reality right next door.

Coraline’s parents are loving, but really too busy to play with her, so she amuses herself by exploring her family’s new flat. A drawing-room door that opens onto a brick wall becomes a natural magnet for the curious little girl, and she is only half-surprised when, one day, the door opens onto a hallway and Coraline finds herself in a skewed mirror of her own flat, complete with skewed, button-eyed versions of her own parents. This is Gaiman’s (American Gods, 2001, etc.) first novel for children, and the author of the Sandman graphic novels here shows a sure sense of a child’s fears—and the child’s ability to overcome those fears. “I will be brave,” thinks Coraline. “No, I am brave.” When Coraline realizes that her other mother has not only stolen her real parents but has also stolen the souls of other children before her, she resolves to free her parents and to find the lost souls by matching her wits against the not-mother. The narrative hews closely to a child’s-eye perspective: Coraline never really tries to understand what has happened or to fathom the nature of the other mother; she simply focuses on getting her parents back and thwarting the other mother for good. Her ability to accept and cope with the surreality of the other flat springs from the child’s ability to accept, without question, the eccentricity and arbitrariness of her own—and every child’s own—reality. As Coraline’s quest picks up its pace, the parallel world she finds herself trapped in grows ever more monstrous, generating some deliciously eerie descriptive writing.

Not for the faint-hearted—who are mostly adults anyway—but for stouthearted kids who love a brush with the sinister: Coraline is spot on. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-380-97778-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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