A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
Strong messages about courage and determination to do the right thing, even when you're being told to do something else.
Positive Role Models
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 & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.