I will admit it: sometimes I see things on NetGalley and think cute cover, MG fantasy, I want. And don't even read the synopsis. Particularly if the book is from a publisher whose books I typically like. Such was the case with Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. Then I began reading and discovered it was a retelling of "The Snow Queen". And it was good.
Unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard doesn't believe in anything that can't be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia's help.
As Ophelia embarks on an incredible journey to rescue the boy everything that she believes will be tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy's own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world.
As a heroine, Ophelia shines. Her greatest strength is that she is a normal little girl. She has no particularly special talents. She enjoys science and is curious. But for the most part she is just a quiet little girl with asthma who is mourning the death of her mother. When she stumbles on the Marvelous Boy and he requests her help to save the world, she scoffs. But she remembers her mother, who wrote stories of the dark and fantastic. Her curious mind won't let her leave well enough alone. And she becomes a heroine. I love stories like this, a story any person can imagine themselves in. Kids love these sort of stories too and will have no problems finding a part of themselves in Ophelia. She is in every way an ordinary ten year old girl. The Marvelous Boy is mysterious. His name is hidden to give him a way to return home. He has waited 300 years in captivity for Ophelia to turn up and help him. His back story is told by him to Ophelia within the mainframe of the story. His story reads like a traditional fairy tale and does involve quite a bit of exposition, but is told in short bursts so as to maintain the interest of the reader.
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a quick read, with a tight plot. Foxlee keeps the story moving at a quick pace. All the action occurs within three days, other than the Boy's story. As a retelling of "The Snow Queen" the novel excels in many ways. Ophelia has a series of quests she must go on in order to free the Boy. These all occur within the confines of the museum curated by a woman who is cold and remote. During these quests Ophelia encounters help she never could have imagined and is attacked by various minions of the Snow Queen, causing her to be intimidated at times but she never gives up. The one big difference is the motivation of Ophelia. Since she only just met the boy, she is motivated by her curiosity, their developing friendship (rather than a longstanding one), and the love she feels for her father and sister (who is in danger). I would have liked a little more closure in the relationship between Ophelia and the Boy, but other than that it was a fully satisfying read.
This book is going to be an easy sell. With interest in "The Snow Queen" rising due to the movie Frozen, it won't be hard to get kids interested. Once they start reading, they will stay interested because the story will pull them in. It is also a book that will make an excellent read aloud for kids in younger grades.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Knopf Books for Young Readers, via NetGalley. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy will be available on January 28.