I grew up reading. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. Remember Book-it? It was this program through Pizza Hut that gave kids a personal pan pizza for every 5 books they read. We went pretty much every week for a while there. I’m pretty sure my sister and I were their worst nightmare. I also had a great deal of freedom in choosing the books I read. Which meant that I leaped right past young adult books and straight into more adult fare. By fourth grade I was diving into thrillers and mysteries and Dean Koontz books. By middle school I was enthralled with Joseph Conrad and Anne Rice. What can I say? My tastes were both eclectic and decidedly not normal for my age. I didn’t even pick up a Harry Potter book until well into college, despite the fact that my middle-school classmates were gushing over it. In fact, I didn’t read the first book until the last one was a month from debuting. This meant I didn’t have to wait years between books, but it also meant that I was missing out on a genre of books that I’ve only now begun to explore. And now, dear readers, I’m hooked.
And it all began with a book called Storybound.
It was the cover the piqued my interest. And then the first line drew me in:
“Una often told herself that she was invisible. Perhaps that was the reason people passed her in the halls, their eyes skimming over her slight form as if she were part of the scenery: a desk, a book, a classroom, a girl.” Storybound, p. 5
In Storybound, Burt weaves a rich world of familiar tropes flipped on their heads. She shows us that young adult fiction doesn’t have to be filled with flat characters. Instead, each of her characters, while originally falling into the typical categories, can still surprise you. Readers will root for the villain, feel sympathy for the tragedy of the spoiled popular girl and see themselves in the protagonist. I did, anyway.
In the first part of this two-part series, Burt introduces Una Fairchild, an orphan and loner who spends her lunches hiding in the library’s basement, reading whatever books that grab her attention. But then a particular book draws her in – literally – and she finds herself in Story, a world where characters are groomed to fill the roles the Tale Masters assign to them. And anyone from the world of the Readers, including Una, is in grave danger.
It’s a pretty simple concept that allows Burt to pack in the action, emotions and just the right amount of twists that make most books worth reading. And Burt has a way with pacing, easing readers into the story and then revving up the action until it climaxes with a suspenseful ending. I literally read the first book in a couple of hours and then went right online and downloaded the second book, Story’s End, because I had to know how it ended. And then I sat down and immediately read that in a couple of hours. And, guys, it was totally worth it! The end is well done, with everything delightfully resolved and yet still leaving you the ability to live in the world a little longer as you imagine where the characters might go from there. She even manages to sneak in a few words of wisdom that we all need to hear sometimes. For example:
“‘But keeping bad things away will not fill the world with more good. Busy yourself with filling the world with goodness, Una, and you will find it a much better Story.'” – Story’s End, p. 203
I promise the book doesn’t hit you over the head with these sorts of fable-like lessons. Instead they seem to rise organically from the natural progression of the story, making them seem more real, to me anyway. And I think these moments of clarity offered by characters or the narrator making an observation are the real value that this genre offers to readers young and old, but especially old. We forget sometimes the great things we learned from books when we were kids. Perhaps that’s why the world can be such a big mess sometimes.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a quick, entertaining read with intriguing characters, an enchanting setting and a story that keeps you guessing, this is a perfect read. Young adult fiction isn’t for everyone, but this is a good introduction to the fantasy section of this genre. It also offered me a great escape during my two-week break between the craziness of the summer sessions (more on that later) and the fall semester to come.
Next up: I moving on to another young adult fantasy series called The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. It starts with The Alchemyst and includes six books plus two short side stories. And I promise to put up some reviews of non-young-adult books I’ve read over the summer, too.