Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She’s a Telepath—someone who hears the thoughts of everyone around her. It’s a talent she’s never known how to explain.
Everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and also reads minds. She discovers there’s a place she does belong, and that staying with her family will place her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind everything and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from anything she has ever known.
Sophie has new rules to learn and new skills to master, and not everyone is thrilled that she has come “home.” There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory—secrets about who she really is and why she was hidden among humans—that other people desperately want. Would even kill for.
It's been awhile since I've read a really good MG fantasy novel. I won't lie, I find that Middle Grade books can be really hit or miss with content, meaning I find authors and editors often allow the content to talk down to kids. I spent 8 years working with kids, they are far from dumb, by the time I was in grade 6 (so 11?) I was reading adult lit like Rebbecca by Daphne du Maurier. I think for a MG book to really be a contender, it needs to be intelligent, but still full of whimsy and fun. So in other words, I am picky, possibly considerably more picky then I am with YA. Also, MG just isn't nearly as prolific a genre as YA, therefore it's considerably less often that I come across stellar MG books, which is disappointing because I love them quite considerably.
Shannon Messenger, a blogger who is a MG dedicate, has been on my blog roll for some time, so when she announced her book deal for her MG fantasy series The Keeper of the Lost Cities I was suitably excited. Of course, now I have to admit that I happily scored an ARC at BEA last year and didn't get around to reading it until a week ago. What can I say? Personal organization fail. Of course it worked out well, because now I'm that much closer to MORE Messenger goodness as her YA release comes out in just one month! So you know, I must have organized that on purpose. Or at least that's the story I'm sticking with.
Keeper did not disappoint. Smart, funny, full of lovable characters and excellent world building of the most whimsical variety, Keeper was like the ultimate chocolate sundae covered in the most exotic array of delectable toppings. And if that isn't enough for you, it also has great heart, I snuffled my way through most of the ending.
For starters, and this will hardly surprise any of Messengers blog or Twitter followers, Messenger has got a firm handle on pre-pubescent psyche. Sophie and her misfit gang never once sound one ounce younger or older than they are supposed to be. For instance, right after Sophie finds out she's an elf:
That night Sophie dreamed the Keebler elves were holding her hostage until she perfected all their cookie recipes. Then she told them she like Oreos better, and they tried to drown her in a giant vat of fudge. She woke in a cold sweat and decided sleep was overrated.There is always just the perfect blend of MG appropriate voice and cleverness to keep the reader entertained. I also really enjoyed the fact that despite being twelve, Sophie has a stuffed elephant that's her security blanket, because fact of the matter is, at twelve that's often a dirty little secret. I had two baby blankets that I took wherever I travelled (I might actually still have them on my couch, but you can't see my living room so nobody can prove anything). And to me, it's those sort of little relatable bits that make a fantasy book so much more believable. Besides, nobody ever wants to think they're the only weird freak about something, especially at that age.
Messenger has built a heady world of fantastic new traditions, people and places and she doesn't skimp on the details. Who didn't like the long descriptions of food in Harry Potter? And yet that is so often overlooked in MG, Messenger does not make that mistake.
Her world also has soft referencing to environmental and moral issues which were done with a subtle hand. Comments on meat eating and what humans are doing to the world are there, but they don't dominate the story.
The mystery of Sophie's background and her talents has some tantalising reveals, but there is much left to be uncovered in the next couple of books, promising that the adventures will continue in an epic fashion.
All in all, Keeper of the Lost Cities was a great Middle Grade read that will happily take up residence on my shelf with the likes of Fablehaven, The Olympians and The Sisters Grimm. I can't wait until the wee parasite is old enough to start sharing these with her! Is there some kind of pre-natal vitamin I can take to make her a reader? Maybe I'll just start snacking on some of my favorite books.
Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger
Published by Aladdin, October 2nd, 2012
Buy Keeper of the Lost Cities on Amazon