Always October

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Always October Book Poster Image
Scary, fast-paced monster tale lacks character development.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

Readers learn a bit about cemetery and mausoleum settings and what it can be like for an orphan who's moved from home to home in foster care.

Positive messages

This is one of those books that shows that kids can be heroes. Also, a couple of the most hideous-looking monsters turn out to be good, reminding kids not to judge based on appearance.

Positive role models & representations

Jacob and Lily use their intelligence and experience to solve problems; Jacob is a fearful child, but he shows bravery and loyalty throughout their adventure. For the most part, the adult characters aren't well developed, and they exist in such fantastical circumstances that it would be hard to say that they set any kind of example for readers. But Jacob and Lily do have caring adults in their world(s):  Lily's grandfather gave her a home when she was orphaned and being moved from one foster home to another (before the action in the book begins); and Jacob's mom is a loving single parent.

Violence & scariness

Jacob and Lily enter a parallel universe populated by monsters -- some are helpful, some are very threatening. Throughout most of the story, the children navigate suspenseful, frightening situations; many of the monsters are huge, fanged, menacing creatures. In parts of the book, Jacob and Lily have reason to believe that one or more of their friends is dead or trapped by monsters. This novel may be too scary for sensitive kids or to be read at bedtime.

Language

The strongest language used is designed to make kids laugh: One monster calls another a "booger."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Always October, by prolific children's author Bruce Coville, is about two young friends -- Jacob Doolittle and Lily Harker -- who discover a parallel world of monsters and must rescue a baby. Narrated by the two kids (they alternate chapters), the novel is fundamentally all plot. Challenge follows challenge at a rapid pace, so dangerous situations are resolved fairly quickly, but the monsters -- many of which are huge, fanged, menacing creatures -- can be very frightening. In some parts of the book, Jacob and Lily have reason to believe that one or more of their friends has been killed or trapped by monsters. Coville creates an age-appropriate monster world, but some kids may find this book too scary, or at least too scary for bedtime.

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What's the story?

ALWAYS OCTOBER, by prolific children's writer Bruce Coville, tells a fast-paced adventure story about middle school-age friends Jacob Doolittle and Lily Harker. Lily, an orphan, lives with her grandpa, who's caretaker at a cemetery. Jake, who lives with his mom, has an unusual family history: His grandfather, Arthur Doolittle, a famous author of horror stories, disappeared when Jake's dad was 10. Jake's dad also vanished without a trace a couple of years before the book begins. When a baby is abandoned on the Doolittles' doorstep, very strange things begin happening in Jake's house, and the two friends discover that Arthur Doolittle's books may not be entirely fictional.

Is it any good?

Always October starts with an inventive premise, but the book lacks nuance and character development. The plot moves very quickly in a way that probably appeals to some kids, but, likewise, there's little buildup to create real suspense, and there's little time for either the characters or the reader to marvel at this entirely new monster world. The most meaningful aspect of the book is the charming connection between Jacob and his adopted brother, Little Dumpling; the baby is described very sweetly, and readers do come to care about him and root for Jake and Lily to save him.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how scary the book is for kids. Do you think books are more or less scary than movies? Why?

  • Why do you think Jacob has a hard time admitting he loves Little Dumpling?

  • Why do you think Lily likes hanging out in the mausoleum?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love fantasy

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