In Summerland, his first novel for young readers, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon attempts an American Narnia. Inspired by Lewis and Tolkien, he's created his own magical landscape on which to paint a sweeping fantasy quest, but mixes the same ingredients--folklore and new inventions--in a distinctively American way.
The plot is simple and pure, but takes a long time to tell. The setting is Clam Island, Washington, specifically the area on the western tip of the island known as the Summerlands, which enjoys zero rainfall and yearlong fine weather. Ethan Feld, a self-described really bad ball player, is recruited by a 100-year-old scout called Mr. Chiron "Ringfinger" Brown. Ethan is needed to help the ferishers, essentially fairies, to save their world from eradication. On the great infinite tree of worlds, Summerland is on the boundary between two such worlds, and a particularly destructive fairy called Coyote and his band of warriors are nearby and threatening to destroy everything.
Heroes are desperately needed to counter this threat, and their journey involves a lot of baseball, but also encounters with giants, bat-winged goblins, sea monsters, and assorted cunning magic. The novel features an ensemble cast of equal parts that shine and fade in turn, and yet the undoubtedly fine writing fails to mask the enormity and complexities of the world in which they travel, and the bad guys getting their comeuppance always seems so far away. Readers need to savor every word in Summerland to extract the best flavors from it. (Ages 10 and older.) --John McLay, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
In his debut novel for young readers, Pulitzer Prize winner Chabon (The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) hits a high-flying home run, creating a vivid fantasy where baseball is king. Following the death of his mother, 11-year-old Ethan Feld and his father, a designer of lighter-than-air-dirigibles move to Clam Island, Wash. The island is known for its almost constant rain, save for an area on its westernmost tip called Summerland by the locals which "knew a June, July and August that were perfectly dry and sunshiny." In Summerland, Ethan struggles to play baseball for the Ruth's Fluff and Fold Roosters, with dismal results. But here, too, a mystical baseball scout recruits Ethan and escorts him through a gateway to a series of interconnected worlds that are home to magical creatures called ferishers and an evil, shape-changing overlord called Coyote. Ethan and two of his fellow teammates soon accept a mission to save these other worlds (plus the one they live in) from ultimate destruction at Coyote's hand. When his father's well-being is also threatened, Ethan's quest becomes all the more urgent. To succeed, Ethan and his friends must find a way to beat giants, ferishers and others in a series of games where striking out truly has apocalyptic implications. Chabon unspools an elaborate yarn in a style that frequently crackles with color and surprise. He occasionally addresses readers directly, imbuing his tale with the aura of something that has been passed down through the ages. Impressively, the author takes a contemporary smalltown setting and weaves in baseball history, folklore and environmental themes, to both challenge and entertain readers. Images of the icy Winterlands and beasts like the werefox and Taffy the motherly Sasquatch recall C.S. Lewis's Narnia and some of Philip Pullman's creations in His Dark Materials. Devotees of the genre and of America's pastime will find much to cheer here. All ages.
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