A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Still Life is the final installment in The Books of Elsewhere series about a girl facing a family of evil witches. Olive is often in peril and is burned in one scene. In a scary face-off, the main villain tells Olive, "You don't deserve such a quick ending...You deserve a bit more fear. A bit more pain." There's a fire that destroys a married couple, and Olive thinks it also has killed her cat, Horatio. A painted character is described as having been "incinerated," and other painted characters are found trapped in a bog or frozen. A man is described as killing his only child. Readers will learn some painting terms, such as pentimento, or "one painting hidden inside another." Still Life also may provoke readers to think about whether violence described in a fantasy setting is as disturbing as violence in a more realistic setting. Olive doesn't know what to do -- and she sometimes makes rash decisions -- but she keeps trying to help people and protect those she loves. Although Olive loves the world of Elsewhere, she ultimately understands she must live in the real world and is happy to have so many people (and cats) who love her.
What's the story?
In STILL LIFE, Olive knows that Aldous McMartin is plotting his return. Long ago, he used to own the creepy mansion she now calls home, which he filled with his magical paintings, creating a secret world called Elsewhere that Olive can move in and out of -- and where he has hidden many real people, including her friend Morton's parents. And, even though Aldous is now missing, she feels his presence -- and receives a chilling note from him on her own front porch. But after saving some of his victims from the paintings in which they have long been trapped, she stumbles upon another of his prisoners who begs for release into the real world. Should Olive listen to her? Or should she follow the advice of one of her wise talking cats, Horatio, who begs her, "Promise me, no matter what happens, you will not let her out"? And what will happen when Aldous finally returns to take the home he believes is still his?
Is it any good?
Still Life is a bit slow to ramp up as the author reminds readers of details from earlier books, but once the action gets going, the story moves more quickly to a satisfying and creative conclusion. Readers who have enjoyed the first four books in the Books of Elsewhere series will find many of the fantastic touches here again, from Elsewhere's varied magical worlds to the talking cats that act as Olive's protectors (and at times sweet comic relief from the intense material). Charming human characters are back again, too, such as Olive's math-obsessed parents who even take care to create a logical system for Christmas tree decorating.
Although it may be tempting for readers to race through this book to find out what happens in the final Olive-versus-Aldous face-off, they should really try to slow down to enjoy the often poetic language here, from an overhead light that gives off "a reluctant yellow haze" in a creepy art museum basement to "a hush thicker and colder than ice" that fills a painting while Olive is looking for one of Aldous' victims.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about reading a series. What's fun about returning to characters you already know?
Still Life is the final book in The Books of Elsewhere series. If you were going to write an additional volume, what would happen to Olive and the cats -- and all the people from Elsewhere?
What do you think of the intense scenes in this book -- such as when a fire nearly kills Horatio? Are violence and danger different in a fantasy setting than a realistic one?
- Author: Jacqueline West
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and fantasy, Cats, dogs, and mice, Great girl role models, Misfits and underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Dial Books
- Publication date: June 17, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 17
- Number of pages: 330
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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