Monday, April 28, 2014

Review: The Water Castle

The Water Castle
By Megan Frazer Blakemore
Published 2013 by Walker Childrens

Ephraim and his family have moved home - their ancestral home, that is. Their mother packs up the family and moves to a property in Maine, one that has been in their family for generations. His mother is desperate to help his father - he's suffered a stroke and nothing seems to be helping. When Ephraim begins to hear rumors of the Fountain of Youth being located on the property, he's sure he has the cure. If he can find the water, maybe he can save his dad.

Wow, I am so far behind on my reviews. As I mentioned earlier in the year, I had the pleasure of serving as a Round 2 judge for the Cybils, in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category. I am, apparently, just now getting to writing reviews for the finalists in that category.

Before the finalists were announced, I had only read one of them (The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, click for my review). Thankfully, I had heard of all the others and had at least a passing interest in them (obviously, or I wouldn't have wanted to be an EMGSF judge in the first place). I was, perhaps, most interested in this title. It had gotten a stellar review from Betsy Bird (she of Fuse #8) and was even getting considerable buzz as a potential Newbery winner. It was the first of the finalists available from the library, so I dove in.

Unfortunately, I did not share Ms. Bird's enthusiasm. I was extra excited prior to reading because this books takes place in Maine, my beloved homeland. Imagine my even greater joy when I discovered that Blakemore is a librarian in Maine. How could I not root for this book?? I felt like Blakemore captured the beauty and quiet majesty of living in Maine wonderfully - this book made me miss my home state quite a bit (though I read it in the dead of winter, not a lovely time to be in New England). In fact, the writing was, for me, the book's greatest strength. Blakemore clearly has a way, and I'm impressed by the quality of writing in this book. Impressed enough that I'm eager to see what else she writes.

I also quite enjoyed the characters. Each child has a distinct personality and they work quite well together here. I liked the children from outside the family as well. The adults in the book are a bit more nebulous, but that's not terribly unusual in a book written for youth. Additionally, I loved how the events of the past affected the events in the present. I liked finding out the history of the Water Castle and all the families who had been involved with it over the years.

What lessened my appreciation for this book was the ending. While not inherently opposed to ambiguous endings, I have to feel that they're right for the story in question. In this case, I felt there were too many plot threads left hanging, too many questions unanswered. If I were an actual kid reading this, I would have been insanely frustrated to reach the end of this book and find out that's all there is. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Overall, I can easily see how this book became a Cybils finalist, but it was probably my least favorite of the bunch.

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