Friday, September 7, 2012

The Spindlers

I must confess, I picked up middle-grade novel The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver, more because of the author than interest in the content. That's funny, too, because I didn't love her young adult novel Delirium as much as I do most other dystopian novels. I guess I figured I'd give her another try. In fact, I have another older middle-school novel of hers that's been waiting awhile on my shelf. Maybe it's time to give that one a shot, too.

The Spindlers starts out slow...and a little kiddy, to be honest. I felt like I was reading elementary school fiction, and that's the age group I would recommend this to, having finished it. But it picks up toward the middle and is downright compelling as it nears the end.

Liza is a normal girl who wakes up one day to discover that her brother's soul is missing. He's still there, pretending to be himself, but Liza knows the difference. Her babysitter (and here I'm thinking, really? How can I take this adventure seriously if it's put into the realm of the babysitter's ghost stories?) has told her of the Spindlers, spider-like creatures who rule the Underworld and steal souls. Liza knows they have Patrick, and with the grownups calling her a storyteller and fibber, it's up to her to go down and get him back. But the Spindlers aren't the only danger that awaits her.

Yeah, I wasn't too fond of the whole babysitter-tells-stories-that-end-up-being-true idea. It makes you wonder from the start if any of the adventure is real or if it's all just in Liza's head or dreams. Perhaps the author realized this because she makes a point of proving to the reader (and to Liza, actually) that it's all real. But if you really wanted to, you could say it all happened in Liza's head, and it would still fit the book. I don't think that's what the author meant to imply at all, but it could easily be read that way.

That certainly contributed to my dislike of the beginning of this book. It was slow, too, in getting to any real danger. Liza meets some vaguely interesting creatures at the start of her adventure in the Underworld, but I kept hoping for more. And finally, the book gave me more. The Spindlers are the ultimate dangerous goal, but Liza's journey there holds its own dangers and surprises.

I'm not sure how old Liza is, but she seems young, maybe only slightly older than Lucy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The book is targeted toward grades three through seven, but I would recommend it to the younger side of that spectrum. From what I've observed, kids who read usually read above their age level.

I was pleased to see that as in The Chronicles of Narnia, there is real danger (as long as it's not all a dream) for Liza in the Underworld. It's good to expose kids to a healthy amount of danger in books. Notice, I say "healthy," and by that I mean a parent still needs to monitor a child's reading experience. But I would say The Spindlers is a pretty safe bet for most kids.

Three stars for turning out to be an imaginative adventure worth reading.

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