By Brian Falkner, illustrated by Donovan Bixley
Published 2014 by Capstone Young Readers
Cecilia can talk to animals, so it's only natural for her to rescue Rocky, a sad and neglected Samoyed who lives next door. How is she to know that this rescue will set off an unexpected chain of events that will find her lost in the mysterious Northwood forest? What she finds there is an even bigger mystery, one that Cecilia is determined to solve.
I am lucky to be auto-approved for all Capstone Young Readers titles, so when I spotted this one, I thought it sounded interesting enough to download. As I often say, I'm always looking for new titles to recommend to middle-grade readers at my library and I hoped this would fit the bill.
I'm not sure what to think of this book, though, ultimately, I think it's probably not anything too special. Cecilia is a fine, if underdeveloped character (how much we know about her aside from the talking to animals bit, I'm not sure) and the plot moves along nicely. But the story doesn't exactly work for me. It's framed by an unnamed narrator who philosophizes on the nature of truth and fiction and leaves readers to wonder whether the story contained within is true or not. I found this completely unnecessary and quite off-putting. It seemed like Falkner was trying too hard with this bit. Additionally, the story feels quite disjointed. The first part is about Cecilia discovering Rocky and rescuing him, which of course does not sit well with his owner. It seems like the story is going to continue on this path, with some sort of epic war between Cecilia's an Rocky's owner. Until, suddenly, it doesn't seem that way anymore. Now, the story takes Cecilia's to the forest and a mysterious castle, full of people who are trapped there.
This storyline is certainly more interesting than the one the book started with, but I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn't felt like the two were only barely connected. I kept waiting for Mr. Proctor, Rocky's owner, to make a reappearance as the villain of the castle, or to at least have something significant to do with that storyline but, alas, it wasn't to be. Perhaps the tangential development of the story won't matter to some young readers but it makes me more unlikely to recommend this to my patrons. There are better books out there, in my opinion.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via NetGalley.