I’ve always been torn on how I should approach book reviews: whether to write the review immediately after reading the book, or waiting a bit and seeing how the book stays with me and then writing the review. Sometimes however, the decision is made for me just because of my schedule–and that’s the case with this one. It’s been a bit since I read this book, so I have a chance to see how much of the book has stayed with me over time–an important trait for a book to have, in my opinion.
Unfortunately, I just have a vague idea of how the book made me think and/or feel. The story follows twelve-year-old David, a boy growing up in World War II London, struggling to deal with the changes in his life, both personal and in the world. His family is changing, he loses his mother very early on, and all he has left to remember her are the stories he and his mother loved and shared.
I enjoyed the world that David finds himself in, and the half-bubble-off-center fairy tales they represent. In many ways I’ve always enjoyed that idea: what if what we knew, what we were told about the story wasn’t quite right? If we walk in expecting one thing, what would we do if suddenly presented with another? In many ways, it’s easiest to tell that from the POV of a child, since children seem to adapt to changes in the surroundings faster than adults. (To be fair, David doesn’t show this in all of his life, but rather the alternate world certainly teaches him how to adapt and problem-solve.)
The reactions are very real feeling: David doesn’t see the full picture (most twelve-year-olds don’t) and thus he doesn’t react to the full picture. And he shouldn’t. But the story also shows growth and change in him, without ever losing the core of who he is. I’ve seen this line get smudged in other books: the change completely alters the character (and not in a good way) or there’s simply not a noticeable change in our narrator. For something like this book, it’s necessary to see the change; it’s the point of the story.
That being said, the characters don’t really stay with you. I was very attached to them at the time, but sitting here some time later, I can’t pull up specifics. Even more major characters like the Woodsman and Leroi…I remember they were there, and I remember some basics, but they all fade into the woodwork.
Maybe it’s a sign of my age, maybe it’s a sign of the writing, but this book was fine without being truly remarkable, and I’d been hoping for a bit more.
Rating: ***1/2 – Recommended with Hesitation (rounded to 4 on Goodreads)