I've never watched a single episode of Glee—simply because I don't watch TV—but even I am aware that author Chris Colfer acted and sang his way into millions of hearts in that series. And though he isn't the first actor to find success as an author of fiction—for example, Julie Andrews Edwards and Ian Ogilvy are among those whose work I have reviewed—I can't help being impressed by this kid. Scarcely 23 years old at this writing, he already has a Golden Globe award (Best Supporting Actor in a Television Series) and a New York Times Number One Bestseller. In my book, that's a sign of incredibly ambitious, wide-ranging, and precocious talent. The proof will come when he continues to bring forth fresh creative stuff.
This is Chris Colfer's first novel, aimed at younger readers, and it's the first book of a series called "The Land of Stories." It introduces us to twins Alex and Conner Bailey, who miss their father (who was killed in an accident), worry about their mother (who works double shifts at the hospital to support them), and struggle to fit in at school. Alex is a Hermione Granger type: smart and studious, eager to please, she often feels lonely and left out of her classmates' social cliques. Conner is pure trouble: mouthy and mischievous, brimming with activity, he has difficulty staying awake in class and frequently earns the wrath of his teacher. In spite of their differences, the twins are intensely loyal to each other. And so when Alex falls through a family heirloom book of fairy tales, and lands in the magical world where those tales took place, it's only to be expected that Conner follows her.
The world they discover on the other side of this book-sized gateway is divided into several kingdoms. Some of these kingdoms are ruled by fairies, dwarves, goblins, and trolls. Others have kings and queens who, as princes and princesses, were the heroes and heroines of such classic stories as "Little Red Riding Hood," "Rapunzel," and "Cinderella." A little time has passed since the stories recorded in Grandma's book, but such a very little that the twins soon begin to suspect that time behaves differently on both sides of the book-portal. So they feel the urgency of finding a way back into their own world, where their mother will be worrying about them and might even give them up for dead.
The problem is—How can they get back to their world? A huge but friendly frog tells them that he knows one way, described in a journal left behind by the last man who tried it. This route is called the Wishing Spell, and to complete it, one must collect a set of hard-to-get items from all around the Land of Stories. Things like Cinderella's glass slipper, a bit of Red Riding Hood's basket, and a lock of Rapunzel's hair. And though the rightful owners of these things are nice enough and willing to share, collecting the items will not be safe or easy. The roads are haunted by dangerous creatures. And an Evil Queen who has escaped from prison is also looking for the ingredients of the Wishing Spell—which can only be used once more. If the enemy gets to it first, the twins may be stuck in the Land of Stories forever. And yet, perhaps more disturbing than all this is the strange feeling that grows on Alex and Conner... the feeling that this magical world may be where they really belong.
I liked the tone and pacing of this young author's first book. In short strokes, he paints a word-picture of a really whimsical and charming world. He is especially successful in creating Alex and Conner, who are always saying and doing such fun things. He also proves capable of stirring deeper and darker emotions, and of provoking thought about the importance of story in our world. Book 2 of "The Land of Stories," set to be released in August 2013, will be titled The Enchantress Returns. I look forward to reading this, as well as Colfer's other novel, titled Struck By Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal. The latter has already been made into a film, written for the screen by and starring Colfer himself.
Saint Louis USA
Recommended Age: 11+
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