A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Chemistry plays a big role in the story -- can't say that too often. Kids can find out more about Boron and how it affects plants. And don't forget to look up the alchemist Hennig Brand, who really did use his own urine to make phosphorus. There are also tidbits about the Dewey Decimal System, the best way to build traps, and the solving of word puzzles.
Uncle Phineas' biggest piece of wisdom to pass on: "Power without understanding and self-mastery will always cost your humanity. Understanding must come first. ...There is no compassion without understanding. And power without compassion is the worst kind of evil there is." There are also examples of bravery, resourcefulness (it's amazing what can be built out of trash), and teamwork.
Positive Role Models
Sky is a bit impulsive (somewhat thanks to his "little monster") and puts finding his uncle above parental and school rules. He also believes that not all monsters are bad and risks his life to convince his new monster-hunter friends of this. The other young monster hunters are incredibly resourceful and bright -- Andrew even sets up a whole chemistry lab in their hideout. Hands, though, is known for his sticky fingers and often steals from his father's store.
Violence & Scariness
The scare factor on the monsters is somewhat high (a monster glossary in the back describes them). Kids and adults are attacked and shoot at the monsters with guns and an assortment of homemade weapons -- some serious injuries, not a lot of gore, but the action sequences go on for many pages. Children go missing in the town of Exile and are thought dead and some parents are missing, kidnapped, or thought dead or about to die at the hands of monsters. Sky is beaten up by bullies. Sky's scar on his hand often bleeds dark blood. A house burns down.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some talk of dating, and Sky has a crush on Crystal.
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Products & Purchases
Cheez Whiz mentioned numerous times, plus Rubik's Cube and Cadillac.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Return to Exile is the first book in The Hunter Chronicles, a dense fantasy series stamped with the ages 8-12 range by the publisher, but 10 and up may be a better fit. The 500-page length may be daunting for kids just getting into fantasy (and the huge cast of characters and many subplots contained therein). Then there are the scary monsters and all the action sequences with kids in danger and attacking them. Some are seriously injured or thought dead, including young children. (For kids easily frightened, head to the monster glossary in the back of the book for an idea of the scare factor.) The young monster hunters are incredibly resourceful, making their weapons out of junkyard finds. And Andrew is a budding chemist, leading to some intriguing chemistry lessons.
Is It Any Good?
There are so many things to like about Return to Exile. There's the humor (just in the names of all the monster lore books alone), the curious and strange monsters themselves, the resourceful junior monster hunters who armor themselves spectacularly with junkyard finds ... But as one intriguing idea piles on top of another, suddenly it's too much. And then it's way too much. There are just too many characters in play (and with all the shape shifters, way more than it's possible to keep straight). And there are subplots -- so many of them that it's hard to keep focused on defeating the big monster in the end.
Also lacking is a real sense of wonder for what Sky has discovered: real monsters, and that he's not alone in his own body, of all places. Wild. This is what will captivate and hold readers as they grapple with understanding a new fantasy world, but it gets lost in too many characters and too many details with not enough focus on the heart of the story.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.