Here are some shorter musings on some recent MG Fantasy reads.
Angel and Bavar by Amy Wilson
Writing a retelling of Beauty and the Beast for a MG audience is no mean feat, yet Wilson pulls it off brilliantly here. The themes of "Beauty and the Beast" are such that making them both palatable and relatable for this age bracket is a challenge. In this version the "beast" is a young boy born to fight monsters and hold them back from humanity thanks to a family curse and ancestors who didn't know when enough was enough. The "beauty" is a young girl who can see the magic and is drawn in due to the trauma of her past. Angel and Bavar team up to try and find a way to stop the monsters forever and allow Bavar to live a more normal life. They are drawn to each other out of loneliness and a shared trauma, but they build a real friendship from that and make a great team. This is a retelling that works on every level, and I really enjoyed it.
The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
The Book of Boy takes place in the medieval era. It is a story about Boy who goes on a pilgrimage with a strange man who seems to see to the core of everyone he meets and is on a strange quest. From a literary perspective, this is an excellently well-written book. Murdock manages to maintain her medieval language style, which is not always an easy task when writing from a modern perspective. It is definitely a credit to her craft and a plus for readers who enjoy being fully immersed in a setting. I just was not the audience for this book. I don't like medieval style or era fiction in general, and the style of the writing was more of an annoyance to me than anything. I also figured everything out in the first two chapters. (I am NOT saying this is a flaw with the book or the writing. The intended audience will not. I'm just an adult with an extensive experience in this subject area so...). For me, it did diminish my personal enjoyment as I couldn't invest much interest in the characters after that. I don't like books on that particular subject either. I guess I can see from a sentence level writing perspective why it was given a Newbery Honor, but I was largely underwhelmed and can't say I will be talking it up to many students. This book will require a particular reader.
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty
This was cute. It has a rather old-fashioned feel to it in many ways, but just enough that it will still appeal to MG readers who aren't into that as much. The story in many ways is absurd, but in a delightful way that is sure to appeal to its target audience. How many 11 year olds wish they could go on an adventure all by themselves like Bronte? I like how the adults weren't at all okay with this turn of events in most cases, and that there was an explanation for why Bronte had to travel alone. She was still well looked out for. The book is full of fantastical creatures, pirates, magic, and all sorts of zany situations that gives Bronte experience and wisdom. It looks like this will be the first in a series. I'm not sure I would want to read beyond this volume, but I will definitely be recommending it to my middle schoolers.
Ogre Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Ogre Enchanted is a prequel to Ella Enchanted. It follows a young healer named Evie who is turned into an Ogre by Lucinda. This is Evie's punishment for refusing a marriage proposal from her best friend Wormie. Honestly, I found the story to be rather slow in many places, and it was hard to not roll my eyes frequently at both the way Evie talked and at her antics as she believes herself to be in love with a person she meets as an ogre. I admit it didn't help knowing who that person was. I do wonder how readers who are experiencing the world of Frell for the first time in this book will feel about the world and characters. Unfortunately, I can't undo my years long love of Ella Enchanted and view it as its own thing.