The Door in the Alley: The Explorers, Book 1

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Door in the Alley: The Explorers, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Fun characters, creepy villains in adventurous quest.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Lots about maps, geography, and undersea exploration. Sebastian comes from a family of genius nerds, and also has a photographic memory, so a lot of scientific, historical, and academic information comes up in the story. Also some clever tips for difficult internet searches.

Positive Messages

Friendship, bravery,  teamwork, learning, discovering your talents and putting them to use, dealing with the unexpected.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sebastian and Evie are quite different -- he's nerdy and brilliant, she's brash and determined -- but in their different ways they both learn a lot about empathy, friendship, problem solving, and courage, and put it to good use.

Violence & Scariness

In the past, an expedition gone wrong causes a deadly catastrophe with far-reaching consequences. Villains destroy a house and may have killed its occupants. Two murderous, very creepy-looking villains, one with half his face melted away and the other with his jaw wired shut and wires sticking out all over. Two parents dead in a car crash, one missing grandpa in danger, a tween abducted, gunfire, assorted mayhem and scary situations.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Door in the Alley is the first book in author Adrienne Kress' series The Explorers, in which 12-year-old Sebastian and 11-year-old Evie -- pursued by creepy, murderous villains -- seek Evie's grandfather, a long-lost adventurer. There's a fair amount of cartoonish violence that some sensitive kids may find upsetting. The ditzy, self-absorbed narrator will delight some and aggravate others, but Sebastian and Evie are appealing protagonists: very different kids who come to appreciate each other, work well together, and have their moments to shine. Lots of vocabulary-enhancing big words here, along with useful information, from the depth of the Mariana Trench to helpful internet search techniques.

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What's the story?

Outside THE DOOR IN THE ALLEY, the entrance to the mysterious Explorers Club, 12-year-old Sebastian and 11-year-old Evie meet -- and join forces. She's a tough-minded, creative-thinking orphan who had a great life with her parents until they died in a car crash, and is now fleeing the orphanage (and two creepy-looking killers) to search for her long-lost grandfather. Sebastian, on the other hand, comes from a family of brilliant, successful nerds, and not only does he follow all rules and never do anything remotely wrong, he pretty much doesn't do anything fun, either. Things change fast as this unlikely duo delves into the Club and its secrets, encountering strange characters and stranger machines.

Is it any good?

Once it gets going, this is a fun, rollicking read, but readers have to be up for a book that chirps, "Don't you hate stories that end in cliff-hangers?" and then gives them a doozy. The Door in the Alley is quite full of itself, with boasting, dithering, big words galore, footnotes that have nothing to do with the story, and other distractions that are going to be part of the fun for some readers and an absolute deal-breaker for others.

Protagonists Sebastian and Evie have a lot of appeal (helped by Matthew C. Rockefeller's lively illustrations), as do some of the quirky adults. Nightmare-prone kids beware: The villains -- a man with a melted face, and another with wires sticking out of his jaw -- may come back to haunt you.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the grandfather quest in The Door in the Alley. Why is finding a long-lost parent or grandparent such a popular theme in storytelling? What other examples can you think of?

  • Do you think it would be cool to have a photographic memory? How would you put it to use?

  • What do you know about undersea exploration? Would you like to explore the places and see the creatures at the bottom of the ocean? What do you think they'd look like?

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