Do you tend to like a book more, or less, if it reminds you of a beloved book? This is a question I’ve been pondering since finishing Jacqueline West’s debut MG mystery The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows. I think I’m in the “less” camp, but I haven’t really decided, and it might depend on the beloved book in question.
I ask this because The Shadows is incredibly Coraline-esque. Coraline is one of my all-time favourite children’s books. I love how whole-heartedly terrifying that book is in places. I double-love the cat, how sarcastic and gutsy and aloof he can be. Of course, I am blown away by the creativity of the premise, and the super-spookiness of the button eyes. I read Coraline to my class last year, and I remember being a bit uncertain about whether or not it would be too scary for some of them. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have given it a moment’s worry. Note to self: most kids love being totally freaked out.
So when I read the back of West’s book, and the caption said, “In the tradition of Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman, Jacqueline West weaves a tale at turn haunting, moving, whimsical, and darkly funny…” I knew I would have to read it, and immediately I had very high expectations. Verdict? While it was a pleasurable, speedy read that is sure to engage kids, I don’t think you can put it in the same category as Dahl and Gaiman’s stories. The series may develop to become more memorable as a whole, but at the moment, I think the main reason this book is being compared to Coraline is because they both share many plot points: an odd child with indifferent, busy parents moves into a creaky old house, girl discovers she can access an alternate world inside the house, evil force is out to get her, she has to save the day, and talking cats. When you look at that list of similarities, it’s no wonder that I was constantly waiting to be dazzled as I was when I read Coraline. Perhaps I kept on forgetting that I wasn’t reading Coraline?
Certainly West can write. There is some clever and evocative description, and moments that are sharply funny. The three cats are vividly drawn. I will read the next book in the series, because I would like to see where West goes with it, how she develops the story and the characters. The Shadows would be an excellent classroom read-aloud for its brisk pacing (also good for reading under the covers, I should think). I must mention the outstanding, creepy and atmospheric illustrations by Argentinian illustrator Poly Bernatene. You can steal a look at a couple of the illustrations at his blog, here. Wonderful.
Take a look at the trailer:
and there’s a slick website with much more, for kids to explore.
The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows is published by Dial Books for Young Readers.