Author: Chris Colfer
Publishing Information: July 17, 2012, Little Brown Young Readers
Genre: Middle-Grade, Fantasy, Fairy Tales
Series information: Book one in a planned series
Format: Paperback, 438 pages
Source: ARC from the publisher (BEA 2012)
Recommended For: Lovers of fairy tales and retellings
Alex and Conner are doing their best to get by. Having recently lost their father to an accident, the twins live with their overworked mother in a small rental home and rely on one another for comfort. Alex is an overachiever, the teacher’s pet and the logical one of the two, whereas Conner is the comedian, and the more impulsive twin. Both children hold memories of their father close and look upon his stories when they need comfort. On their twelfth birthday, their grandmother comes to visit and brings her very old, very special storybook for them as a present. This book opens up a different world for the children in which the fairy tale characters they grew up reading about are real. The only problem here is that, not only are the heroes and princesses real, but also the Evil Queen and big bad wolves are real as well. These well known villains are on a hunt to find items for a wishing spell; the same items that the twins are hunting in order to wish themselves back home to their mother. Through this quest the twins meet a very pregnant Cinderella, a very vain Red Riding Hood, a few Kings Charming, and a host of other well known fantastical characters.
Anyone who knows me know that I love a good retelling and apparently the publisher was describing this one as “The Chronicles of Narnia meets Shrek.” Besides the falling through a wardrobe book to a fairy tale land, this book is nothing like Narnia. It would be easy to compare this to the numerous retellings out there today and I’ll admit that as I was reading I was thinking of the ways the book reminded me of Once Upon a Time, The 10th Kingdom, and yes, Shrek. However, while Chris Colfer was reminding me of all of the things I love about these former retellings, he was also showing me something different. New sides of old characters, surprisingly romantic interludes and a new kickass heroine.
One thing I loved even more than the characters in this novel was the different worlds that the author created. I’m a big fan of epic world building and Colfer penned the settings in a way that made it easy to see in my mind. When Conner asked, “What’s up with all the glitter?” while in the Fairy Kingdom, I really saw it sparkling. When the twins traveled to the Thornbush Pit, I felt myself cringing away as if I was the one who had to venture to the bottom. The only thing missing from this element was a good, detailed map of the kingdoms. I actually drew one for myself so I could keep track of where the twins were headed. (No judgy!)
I’ll be honest, I was wary going into this story. I know many of you had the same thought in your mind when you saw that the author of this novel was a well-known tv actor. To be quite honest, had I not received an ARC of this novel I might not have picked it up for a number of reasons. But let me tell you something, I am so glad that I did. I am beyond thrilled with this story and really rather impressed at Mr. Chris Colfer. Bravo, Kurt! Take that NYADA!
This excerpt provides the reader with a glimpse at the twins and their personalities. Primarily Conner and his humorous jibes toward his sister:
“Grazing around a perfect little stream ahead of them, to their amazement, was a herd of unicorns. They were beautiful: white with silver horns, silver hooves, and silver manes.
Conner’s forehead wrinkled, and his mouth dropped open. ‘Oh, jeez,’ he said. ‘That’s the most obnoxious thing I’ve ever seen in my life!’
‘I want to pet one!’ Alex said, and ran toward them.
‘Alex, be careful!’ Conner said. ‘They could have rabies!’
‘Unicorns don’t have rabies, Conner!’ Alex said.
You don’t know where those horns have been!’ Conner called out.
Alex walked up to the herd, slowing her pace so she wouldn’t spook them. They were so majestic and graceful, she just had to stop and admire them for a moment. One saw her and walked toward her…” (Page 262.)
This story was far from perfect but there were parts that made me laugh out loud, parts that made me a little misty eyed and parts that made me marvel at the level of angst, love and devotion in a middle grade novel. I highly recommend it to readers of all ages.