The Spindlers

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
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Fantastic, creepy tale for tweens features fierce big sis.

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

Educational Value

Kids will learn the conventions of the hero's (or in this case, the heroine's) journey. The archetypal elements of the guide, the antagonists, and the various obstacles leading to a climactic battle for the ultimate reward are all present.

Positive Messages

Oliver stresses the importance of stories -- both to the teller and the listener. Mirabella learns the value of friendship, even though she has a terrible secret of her own. Liza's tale will encourage parents to listen, truly listen, to their children and not just give in to their own exhaustion/exasperation.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Liza is a fierce young girl who's ready to go on a dangerous mission to save her younger brother. The parents, on the other hand, are somewhat distracted and unable to see what's going on with their kids, but Liza still thinks of them fondly. Mirabella, despite her own agenda, ultimately discovers what it means to have a friend.


Creepy occurrences abound. First Liza realizes that her brother is a changeling, then in the world Below, she's thrown in a "Nid" prison and tried before a court and found guilty. In a particularly frightening sequence, Liza awakens hissing, angry tree snakes that chase after and try to bite her; another time, she's temporarily put under a magic spell and drugged by the terrifying, ugly scawgs that plan to eat her and Mirabella.


Some common descriptions of rats are explained as hurtful by a talking rat: "diseased," "filthy," "dirty." Mirabella the rat is also called a "fool" and a "liar."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Spindlers is best-selling young adult author Lauren Oliver's second foray into the middle-grade genre. An Alice's Adventures in Wonderland-like story about a girl who travels to the underworld "Below" to save her brother's soul from evil, spider-like soul eaters, The Spindlers has some frightening episodes that would scare sensitive younger readers. But tweens familiar with the books of Neil Gaiman and the movies of Tim Burton, or who prefer dark and twisty tales will love this book's depiction of another world right beneath our feet. 

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What's the story?

In Lauren Oliver's middle-grade adventure, Liza wakes up one morning and realizes that her kid brother Patrick is acting sedate and strange. After giving the not-quite-Patrick some "tests," she realizes that the thing in her house is a changeling; her real brother's soul has been kidnapped by THE SPINDLERS (powerful, evil spider people) and taken "Below." In her basement, Liza finds the hidden passageway to Below, where she encounters a talking giant rat named Mirabella, who acts as Liza's guide to this creepy underworld. In order to save her brother's soul, Liza must reach the spindlers' nests -- a dangerous task -- before the Feast of the Souls. When she finally encounters the spindler queen, Liza will face her greatest challenges -- not only for Patrick's soul but her own.

Is it any good?

Oliver is proving as adept with middle-grade adventures as she has with young adult novels. The Spindlers is a fun and fabulous read for tweens who like their fantasies a bit on the eerie side. Crafted in the same spirit as Lewis Carroll's Alice, L. Frank Baum's Dorothy and Neil Gaiman's Coraline, Oliver's Liza is a plucky young heroine who's willing to face a host of creepy creatures in an alternately whimsical and terrifying underworld, all to save her younger brother. Liza isn't fearless, but she's purposeful; she knows that if she doesn't get to Patrick, he will be lost to her -- and her parents -- forever. It's hard not to root for a sister who's so dedicated to her pesky little brother.

The underworld that Oliver has created is inventive, if occasionally derivative (the moribats sure seem like the Wicked Witch's flying monkeys). The idea of every person having their own dream-bringer -- the nocturni -- is particularly compelling, as are some of the riddles and tests that Liza must master to find Patrick. A tale of friendship and family, of finding your strength and summoning a courage you didn't know you possessed, The Spindlers is an intricately woven adventure that parents and kids will enjoy reading together.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the fantasy genre and how Lauren Oliver's world of Below compares to other storybook lands. How does it compare with Narnia, Oz, or more recent other worlds?

  • How are parents depicted in The Spindlers? Why does Liza miss how her mother used to be? What lesson can real-life parents learn from Liza's parents?

  • Do you think this book crosses over for teens and adults? Do you think Oliver writes as well for middle-grade readers as she does for older teens?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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