A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there is little here of concern: The main character lies to his parents and friend, but apologizes later, and there are a few product mentions, and references to whiskey and pipes.
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What's the story?
Ever since they moved into a fancy gated community in Salinas, the birthplace of John Steinbeck, and his parents started working late all the time, Travis has been lonely and unhappy. When he breaks his parents' rules and bikes to his old neighborhood library, he discovers that it is slated for closure due to budget cuts. At the same time he begins seeing people around town whom he believes to be characters from John Steinbeck's books, and someone is appearing in the attic window of Steinbeck's old house, which is now a museum. Soon elements of Steinbeck's own life and books seem to be guiding him to one last mystery that the great author left behind.
Is it any good?
This book won't be to every child's taste, but if you know any truly book-loving children, make sure they get their hands on it -- it's a rare treat.
Authors, it goes without saying, are almost by definition booklovers. And many of them have tried to express that love of books in their own work (see Other Choices below for some good examples). Often this leads them down the path of the grandly fantastic, in which people magically enter the books they are reading. Rarely has it worked the other way, where characters from their books enter their own lives. And almost never in the small, subtle ways they do here. This is an author who doesn't think you have to call in the big special effects to dramatize the wonder of books -- they do it all by themselves, in the myriad ways they move and change us.
In this unusual novel, reading and talking about books and thinking about them and going to the library are the adventures. It begins when Travis steps out of his new house in the planned subdivision with identical houses, and realizes he's in Camazotz. If you don't get that reference, put down the computer right now and get yourself a copy of A Wrinkle in Time . It's not necessary to have read Steinbeck, or any of the many other books referenced in the story, to understand and enjoy this, but familiarity certainly enhances the pleasure.
From the Book
Travis looked at the stack of books on his desk. These were his new life, his real life. A Wrinkle in Time led him to the library. Which led him to Corral de Tierra, which led him to The Pastures of Heaven, which led him to The Long Valley. And these books led him to the other mysteries that surrounded him -- Gitano and the Watchers and Steinbeck's ghost -- led him deeper into a world he never suspected.
Books could do that to you. When you read, the world really did change. He understood this now. You saw parts of the world you never knew existed. Books were in the world; the world was in books.