The Glass Town Game

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Glass Town Game Book Poster Image
Fairyland author channels Brontë kids in wild fantasy tale.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The Glass Town Game is packed with literary and historical references, especially from the 19th century (Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, the future Queen Victoria), as well as characters and famous quotes from the novels its main characters will go on to write -- all of which will cause delighted recognition in some readers and inspire new Brontë fandom in others.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about courage, friendship, family, loyalty. Also forgiveness, being willing to admit wrongdoing and try to make things right, making the best of things you can't change, and learning your own lessons from them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Both kid and adult characters, as well as some of the made-up ones, are believably complex. Charlotte struggles with the challenges of being the oldest after her sisters die, flirts with the tween, imaginary Duke of Wellington, and is determined never to go back to the school that would inspire the hellish Lowood in Jane Eyre. The kids' father and aunt are kind and loving -- but they send the girls back to the deadly school anyway.  Even Branwell -- one of history's noted ne'er-do-wells/misunderstood geniuses -- is relatable as he struggles to be a hero instead of overshadowed by his brilliant sisters.

Violence

In their regular world, the kids have suffered the deaths of their mom and two elder sisters, and now Charlotte and Emily must go back to the brutal boarding school that killed the older girls with abuse and disease. In Glass Town and beyond, there are battles, mayhem, violence, scary-looking characters, dismemberment, and death -- and a magic potion that revives some, but not all, victims.

Sex

Tweens Charlotte (12) and Emily (10) are swept up in romances (including a memorable kiss or two) with the Duke of Wellington and Lord Byron in their fantasy world, in which all the characters are about their own age. Occasional mild, usually fanciful innuendo, such as "it looked like pictures of Oxford ... in Father's books, if Oxford had run off with Vienna and got itself in trouble."

Language

Occasional "bloody," "bugger," and other British swear words.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There are pubs and taverns in the Glass Town world, and also magical "champagne flutes" that make you feel like you've had champagne when you play them. "Spirits" are ghosts who become mist that refreshes like fine whisky. "Grog" is  a magical potion that revives the dead.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Glass Town Game, a new stand-alone novel by Catherynne M. Valente (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making) delves into the imaginative world created by the real-life 19th-century British literary Brontë kids: Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and their famously "misunderstood" brother, Branwell. Valente dedicates the book to them, expressing regret that she never knew them. Fans of the wildly creative, best-selling Fairyland series will find much to love here, from fantastical characters and hair-raising adventures to over-the-top lush descriptions, world-building, and moral dilemmas. There's plenty of dark stuff both in the kids' real life (where their mother and elder sisters have recently died) and in the imaginary one (where the forces of Wellington and Napoleon slaughter each other anew every day). But also, in classic Valente style, there are many straight-to-the-heart moments of pure joy, beauty, and hard-earned wisdom in the strangest of places. 

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What's the story?

As THE GLASS TOWN GAME opens, Charlotte (12), Branwell (11), Emily (10), and Anne Brontë (8) are still dealing with the recent deaths of their beloved mother and two older sisters when the Beastliest Day arrives: the day Charlotte and Emily must leave their happy parsonage home for the awful boarding school where cold, beatings, and starvation have already proved the death of poor Maria and Lizzie. But at the train station, they are whisked away to a strange land they slowly recognize as the world they created for their childhood games. Anything's better than that school, and besides, says Charlotte hopefully, nothing we made up in our heads can really hurt us, right? But things aren't that simple: Imaginary characters take on a life of their own, and deadly wars are all too real.

Is it any good?

Not one to shrink from a challenge, author Catherynne M. Valente creates a story of the tween-age Brontë children on a wildly imaginative life-or-death quest in a world they made up themselves. The Glass Town Game's barrage of surreal characters, literary references and in-jokes, historical figures, random events, and moral quandaries won't be every reader's dish, and there are times when it doesn't quite come together. But as often happens in Valente's works, occasional moments of wry humor, poignant sadness, or triumphant sweetness more than reward the sometimes-bumpy trek to get there.

"'Charlotte, I dreamed we were back at School,' choked Emily, her mouth horribly dry.

"'Don't worry, Em,' Charlotte said, smiling as hard as she could while she smoothed her dress and tucked her hair back into place. 'We're only in an insane, upside-down world populated by our toys, our stories, and Napoleon riding a giant chicken on fire. Nothing so bad as School.'"

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about fan fiction -- in this case, a well-known author and Brontë fan making up a story about even better-known authors from the past. Does The Glass Town Game make you want to rush out and read the Brontë sisters' novels? Or, if you've read them already, did it change your perspective? What do you think the Brontës would think about a fantasy book featuring them as kids?

  • How do artists' experiences, especially in childhood, influence their works? What elements do you recognize that later became elements in Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and so forth?

  • If you and your friends spend a lot of time in made-up worlds, do you also include historical figures and present-day famous people in your cast of characters? Which ones?

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