Goblin Secrets

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
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Orphan boy seeks lost brother in exciting, funny tale.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Besides learning some behind-the-scenes secrets of the theatrical world, a little mythology, and a bit about the power of masks, young readers will have the chance to consider an issue that's been around since the time of Plato: What's the role of theater, and pretending in general, in a society? Or should anything that involves unreality just be banned?

Positive Messages

There's room for debate on whether stealing from the witch you live with is the right or wrong thing to do, but there are lots of positive messages here about loyalty and love for family, with characters showing unexpected virtues and courage and imagination in times of crisis. Not to mention the rightness of feeling, and being, at home with the people you belong with.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Rownie's loyalty and tenacity in searching for his missing brother are admirable, as are his resourcefulness and willingness to learn in new situations. His friends, human and goblin, often appear scary at first but prove to have unexpected positive qualities, including kindness and courage, as well as a sense of humor.

Violence & Scariness

There's a gothic vibe to Goblin Secrets' world; many characters are part flesh, part mechanical, as they've had various body parts replaced by clockwork devices. All the clockwork devices run on "coal," which turns out to be the hearts of living beings, whose hearts have been removed and replaced by machines. Goon-like enforcers pursue Rownie and his friends, with unknown dangers on their minds.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's a gothic, steampunk vibe to the world of Goblin Secrets, with sinister, yet often comical, part-clockwork villains and engines fueled by hearts cut from their owners and burned. A tyrannical  government forbids theater and deals harshly with any actors it finds. Young hero Rownie sets fateful events in motion by stealing from his witch "grandmother" and running off with a troupe of performing goblins, all in search of his vanished brother, who disappeared after being arrested in the midst of a play. He not only learns a lot about the craft of acting, he also discovers hidden qualities in the people he meets and gains insight into family, friendship, and belonging.

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What's the story?

Rownie, an orphan boy of uncertain age (he's told he's 8, but thinks he's 10) lives, along with other waifs, with the witch Graba, who walks on clockwork bird's legs, tends to be possessive, and has a rare skill with curses. He's worried about his older brother, Rowan, who hasn't been heard from for weeks. Rowan's a budding actor, but in the city of Zombay, where they all live, all forms of theater are forbidden by government edict -- and clockwork-enhanced enforcers keep an eye out for violators. Dispatched on an errand for Graba, Rownie learns of an upcoming theatrical performance by goblins, impulsively steals Graba's money, and runs off with the goblins. He's hoping to learn more about his brother, but along the way picks up acting skills and life lessons.

Is it any good?

GOBLIN SECRETS delights critics as well as readers for its intriguing world, its characters, their daily adventures, and the struggles they face. As Rownie flees his pursuers, makes new friends, and seeks his missing brother, he also delves into the fascinating world of the theater, where fiction, reality, and magic converge.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about perception and reality -- for example, once Rownie has actually met some goblins, how closely do they resemble the scary stories he's always heard about them?

  • Why do you think the theme of humans enhanced by technology -- as they are here by clockwork eyes, legs, and more -- is so popular?

  • If you've ever performed in a play, was your experience of being in a role and assuming another identity like Rownie's?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and adventure

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