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Underwood (Other Side of Real) Paperback – August 30, 2011
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About the Author
Author A.M. Henry likes telling stories, collecting stories, and seeking out adventure in the perilous wilderness of Northern New Jersey. She works full time as a legal secretary, enjoys Classical music, bird watching, hiking, and canoeing. She still lives with her mother. Illustrator Laura Kitching was born in Scotland and studied fine art and writing in Devon, where she discovered a liking for hiding things, old science books, and fungus. She's slightly obsessed with drawing circles, and dreams of one day owning a sofa. She thinks rabbits are a little bit sinister.
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Top customer reviews
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The story doesn't sound promising. Orphans dumped on a distant relative find a magical world in the woods behind the house. When you just put it down there like that it sounds hopeless. But wait.
The two kids are perfect. They go through all of the normal rigors - dumped on a relative, starting at a new school, getting used to their new home. But the way they are presented and the author's skill in setting the stage make this fresh and entertaining. The contrast with the well-intentioned, clueless bachelor second cousin is priceless. The kids are deadpan humorists, with brief remarks and exchanges getting you on their side and rooting for them. They are clear-eyed, unsentimental, unimpressed and resigned to a world of tough knocks. These are the most world weary and yet engaging middle graders I've come across in some time. They look around at the world and at their situation and they are bemused. That's hard to pull off, but here it works.
And it works because the author shows great restraint and judgment. No pie in the face humor. No Muwaa Ha Ha villains. No frantic currying of the reader's favor. Just brief, efficient, almost terse narrative illuminated by larger carefully crafted scenes. I'm sorry, but when an otherwise matter-of-fact scene of four witches playing blackjack with tarot cards, while arguing over whether onion dip from a can beats homemade eye of newt dip, is both funny and menacing - I'm hooked. This is just so hard to do, and if I'm sitting here admiring the author's skill, and perception, and cleverness - then I'm enjoying myself.
And this doesn't even address the fine world building and descriptive work we encounter as the book progresses. Or the author's ability to ratchet up the menace and suspense.
There are lots of middle grade fantasies around. Some are carried by strong characters, some by ingenious plots, some by grand themes and action. This touches on all of those bases, but with the addition of some solid writing, actual word crafting. Can't ask for much more than that.
Please note that I found this book while browsing Amazon Kindle freebies. I have no connection at all to the author or to the publisher of this book.