From School Library Journal
Grade 3–6—Isabelle Bean has no friends since her classmates consider her weird and even scary. She prefers thrift shops to the mall and dresses in whatever she feels like at the moment. One day, sitting in class concentrating on a strange buzzing sound, she is sent to the principal's office for not paying attention. She opens the door to a supply closet and is plunged into a fairy-talelike world in an alternate universe. She encounters children traveling to the "camps" to avoid being eaten by the Witch of the Woods and meets Hen, and they set out on their own in the opposite direction. Arriving at a cozy cottage, the girls are welcomed by Grete, an elderly woman who uses plants to heal. Isabelle learns that Grete is her grandmother and that she may be the "witch" the people have been taught to fear. Armed with only her determination and intuitive nature, Isabelle marches off to the camps to dispel the rumor of the witch. It is here the plot thickens as Dowell offers twists, turns, and a tragic near-death. Throughout the book she addresses readers directly as though she is telling the story to them. Isabelle's adventures come to a satisfying conclusion as she "falls out" of her school closet a little wiser and maybe a bit more likely to make a friend, and she reminds readers to just believe that "the doors are out there. Don't be afraid to turn the knob."—D. Maria LaRocco, Cuyahoga Public Library, Strongsville, OH
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*Starred Review* Feeling like a changeling in her own world, sixth-grader Isabelle Bean falls into another, where she meets her healer grandmother, Grete, and corrects a misunderstanding that had terrorized generations of children. Although it uses traditional tropes and the faintly medieval setting of much of children’s fantasy, this perfectly paced story has enough realistic elements to appeal even to nonfantasy readers. The plot centers on Isabelle’s efforts to convince the other world’s children that her grandmother is not a wicked witch. This task is complicated but ultimately accomplished by Grete’s accidental poisoning at the hands of a small boy. The storyteller’s voice is evidenced by the opening line (“On the morning this story begins”) and occasionally interrupts the narrative with explanation and rumination. The decidedly opinionated narrator’s privileged stance lends a sense of directness and immediacy to the telling, and the adult perspective allows for more complex language and deeper understanding. Dreamy and distractible, Isabelle is an appealing protagonist whose newfound gift for hearing calls for help reflects how she has grown up enough to see beyond herself. Like Isabelle, her story has that “barely visible edge of otherworldliness” that gives it power. Grades 4-7. --Kathleen Isaacs
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