A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The complex theme of a necessary balance between good and evil is woven through the story, but it never becomes preachy.
Mr. Avery is punished for sacrificing a child to the power of the earth and twisting that power for his own profit, while Jack's actions to unite the dueling forces of good and evil promise peace and prosperity to the town of Hazelwood. However, the larger, more subtle message is that the land and things that grow must be respected in order for people to be happy. The power of memory and honoring the past is also emphasized.
Positive Role Models
Though he resists believing in the town's magic, Jack finally realizes what's at stake and is resourceful, smart, and heroic. Wendy is fearless and a staunch protector of all that she values. Their friends and family -- even the cats -- support all they do to overcome the town's ancient curse.
Violence & Scariness
Children go missing in Hazleton, and several of them are encountered as ghosts midway through the story. Though the violence that caused their death isn't graphically described, the terrible scars on Frankie, the only child who survives the experience, let readers know that though this is a fantasy, it's deadly serious.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this fantasy about a neglected boy who moves to a small rural town includes a rich despot who is willing to kill children in order to retain his power and save his own son. The very real prospect of children mysteriously disappearing is disturbing, but as Jack slowly fits the pieces together of just how the town of Hazleton came to be cursed, the excitement overrides the scariness. Wendy's encounter with souls of the long-gone children may be frightening to some, but the girl's refusal to be scared will help sensitive readers feel brave.
Is It Any Good?
Barnhill successfully weaves in the everyday loneliness of a real kid with a town's magical history to make this a fascinating and satisfying page turner. From the beginning, when his mother barely seems to notice him, it's clear that there's something odd about Jack. But no one is more surprised than Jack when people in Hazelwood know more about his destiny than he does.
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.