The Forbidden Library

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Forbidden Library Book Poster Image
Intriguing start to fantasy series best for dark-side fans.

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Kids say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Books are literally portals into dangerous worlds in The Forbidden Library, and it's inside the books that much of the story's action occurs. History-minded kids will enjoy figuring out where the fantastic takes off from the real in a world that references "President Hoover" and gaslights but sometimes also refers to electricity.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about courage and determination to do the right thing, even when you're being told to do something else. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The closest thing to a positive role model here is Alice's father, who has raised her with strong principles. These in turn lead her to resist her uncle's bloodthirsty orders -- often leading to surprising consequences.

Violence

Alice's uncle insists she needs to kill whatever creature she meets in the books he sends her into; she resists killing innocent creatures but ultimately brings many into existence to be sent to their deaths. Some creatures try to kill her, and there's some question as to what evil plans Uncle Geryon has for her if she fails. Alice and Isaac wrestle over a book.

Sex

A boy kisses Alice several times, sometimes in the course of rescuing her; he says it's about a spell, but there may be a bit of romance involved, too.

Language

Occasional "damn."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

User Reviews

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Kid, 8 years old August 7, 2014

Ok book

It was a little poor book

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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