When Jackson’s family moves to a forested area, he stumbles upon secrets that will change his life forever in this middle-grade novel.
Twelve-year-old Jackson “Jax” Wolfe moves with his parents from the United Kingdom to a rural part of Oregon. Initially, Jackson misses his life in England and his friends there, but eventually he needs to fill his summer vacation. He decides to start exploring the forest, which his father recalls as a memorable activity from his own childhood. Almost immediately, Jackson understands his father’s appreciation for it—there’s magic there, which he experiences when he finds he can suddenly speak to and understand the animals in the forest. Jackson soon befriends some animals, including a porcupine and a badger, because he lives in a remote area and there are few kids around that are his own age. From the animals, he learns that they’re beginning to fear human invaders in the forest. After he meets Sarah, the young granddaughter of his family’s landlord, the two of them team up to help protect the forest any way they can. When they learn that threat comes from Sarah’s grandfather, they’re conflicted about how to handle the situation but know that they need to help their animal friends. This first novel in a planned series explores issues of environmentalism as well as friendship, as Jackson learns how to make new acquaintances and turn them into real relationships. There are also elements of whimsy when the kids converse with the animals, as well as subtle jokes that keep the tone from feeling too heavy. The Masons create a fully developed fictional world, with plenty of fleshed-out characters and a strong sense of place. Although the novel takes a bit too long to reach its conclusion, it’s one that young fantasy fans will appreciate.
A well-written, engaging debut fantasy.