Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere series) by Jacqueline West

I have a favorite pen. The ink seeps out of it so I hardly have to press the felt tip to the paper. Bliss... no callouses, no hand-cramps, just my handy-dandy pen and a cup of tea when I sit down to write. So imagine the irony when I come across this paragraph that I absolutely have to write in my journal and I can't find my blasted pen:
"In her bedroom, Olive dug through the closet looking for a pair of slippers to wear for protection against the chilly stone floor. But there were no slippers to be found. Olive owned six pairs of slippers, but none of them were ever where they belonged. This was because Olive's body often did things without consulting Olive's brain, which was usually busy with something much more interesting than putting things away in the right place. A second pair of socks would have to do."
Olive, I mutter, grabbing a ball-point pen I know will leave my hand cramped, I know exactly how you feel.  The reader immediately gets a feel for Olive's creative, random nature contrasted with her nerdy, brilliant mathematical parents. At dinner, Olive asks for a small helping of lima beans and her mother says, "Twenty-four for you, then."  And while you might not be able to relate to Olive (like myself), you will definitely laugh.

Olive has just moved into a creepy Victorian stone house with a scary basement, talking cats, and paintings where the objects move. She's kind of lonely in the big old house but has a blast exploring its nooks and crannies. When she finds a pair of spectacles she realizes she can climb into the paintings and of course, jumps in the painting that is creepy. She's also intrigued because she can see a boy running through it. Meet Morton. His skin looks like a painting or porcelain but he wants out of the painting. He explains that a bad man brought him there and when a dark shadow chases them she impulsively yanks Morton out of the painting with the help of one of the cats and puts him in another one that is less threatening. 

Her next painting adventure involves meeting a women in a painting and having tea with her making her first friend. She also breaks the tea cup, puts 10 cubes of sugar in her tea, and thwacks her head on the picture frame when exiting, but she's having a hey-ho time until she starts to find out things from people in other paintings about the bad man that put them there. The man who has now targeted Olive because she lives in his house. The man who wants to kill her.

The pacing is fast, the humor keeps the story from being too frightening for young readers, and the characters are kooky and fun. The writing is very descriptive and the author creates a setting that is easy to get lost in. Mrs. Dewey she describes as looking as if she had been stacked on top of each other like a snowman. The cats are like the Three Musketeers with one cat being the thespian. He switches his voice using a pirate voice or a Shakespearean voice, to name a few. He reminded me of my sister who used to do that except she was either a Looney Tune character or the lion in the Wizard of Oz.

There were some nice plot twists and I was kept guessing as to what would happen next. When all looks lost Olive recognizes that the mess they are in is really because of her actions and it was refreshing to see her take responsibility for them. Only a couple of times did I wonder why the cats do not give Olive necessary information. The ploy is to keep the reader guessing as to whether or not the cats are helping or hindering Olive and the author gives the reason that they are serving the McMartins but I thought it was weak. I thought they should have had a curse on them similar to the necklace.

Morton changes from a frightened mean boy to one willing to stand up to evil. It was funny when he was hiding under the bed and then crawls out to explain how he had decided to fight the bad man and says he's strong flexing his spaghetti arm. Morton and Olive become friends in the story and Olive has to apologize for not believing in him. Morton is younger than Olive and their friendship requires Olive to be kind and not be the know-it-all older brat. She is a good person who learns from her mistakes.

This book reminded me of Breadcrumbs with how the author describes cold weather. It is like another character in the story the way it pervades the pages with images of snowmen, ice daggers, and crystals. West does such a good job getting the senses involved that I was left with a frosty nose a few times. A fun fantasy read.

Reading Level 5.1
4 out of 5 Smileys

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