A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Forbidden Library is adult sci-fi/fantasy author Django Wexler's young-reader debut, the first volume of a planned series. Twelve-year-old heroine Alice, "the sort of girl who almost always follows the rules," first loses her beloved father and then is carried off from her home in New York City to the creepy mansion of an "uncle" she didn't know she had, where no one is what he or she seems. Her own magical powers come to light, bringing many dangers (attacks by murderous creatures, wizards bent on erasing her memories, friends who may actually be foes) and ethical quandaries (do any of the rules still matter? What about killing creatures who never did anything to you?). A boy kisses Alice several times, but it's as much about magic spells as romance. Intriguing, thought-provoking, and embellished with darkly fanciful illustrations by Alexander Jansson, this tale of a dutiful girl navigating a world in which everything she knows may be wrong might be too intense for kids who like their realities well defined and their endings happy, but those who thrive in a murkier universe will be rooting for Alice with every page.
What's the story?
Twelve-year-old Alice's orderly world in 1920s New York disintegrates after the night she sees an extremely ugly fairy talking to her father. The conversation distresses her father so much he rushes off to Buenos Aires -- on a ship that immediately sinks with all hands. The orphaned Alice soon finds herself in the scary mansion of an "uncle" she's never heard of, where strange people, sinister events, mysterious powers, and moral quandaries enter her life -- along with orders not to set foot in THE FORBIDDEN LIBRARY.
Is it any good?
Fans of creepy fantasy will find a lot to like here, from Uncle Geryon and his unpleasant minions and scary home to Alice's snarky wit and plucky determination. In this series debut, Django Wexler spends a good deal of time laying the groundwork, building the world, and populating it with a lot of ambiguity, moral and otherwise. Today's friend is tomorrow's foe, cute helpless creatures turn into deadly monsters, and the rules you've followed all your life make no sense at all in your current environment -- all issues that probably require a certain maturity in the reader.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about a world in which the person who saves your life today might try to kill you tomorrow -- or vice versa. How would living in such an environment change the way you felt and the way you did things?
Why do you think stories about kids in spooky mansions are so popular? How does The Forbidden Library compare with other creepy-house stories you know?
One of the characters says the only thing you can do if you have an evil master who makes you do evil work is survive and then be a better master when it's your turn. Do you agree? What might go wrong with this scenario?
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