A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Different types of orchestral instruments are briefly explained, from the types of sounds they make to how they're used in compositions. Most of the geopolitics, socio-politics, and history (and there's a lot of each) are taken from real history but turned slightly sideways by the addition of the dragon-fantasy element. Kids will learn a little about the geography of southwestern Ontario and Lake Huron, although some of the small towns are fictional.
Individuals and small communities working together can surmount any adversity, and even change the course of politics and history. Everyone has a part to play, and although some parts are bigger than others, all are important.
Positive Role Models
Narrator Siobhan, 16, and friend Owen, who turns 17 during the course of the story, model studiousness, artistic achievement, bravery, loyalty, teamwork, critical thinking, and responsibility. There are no real villains here, except the dragons, and all the adults in their lives model the same traits.
Violence & Scariness
Characters discuss strategies for fighting and killing dragons, which mostly involve swordplay. Three or four dragon attacks are specifically described without gore. The description of one attack on some miniature ponies mentions the ponies screaming; another mentions dragon's blood briefly. The search for a dragon involves the brief sight of discarded animal carcasses. The plot climax involves burning thousands of dragon eggs with flamethrowers; one fairly gory sentence describes what happens to the eggs and how they look afterward. Mention is made of a 12th-century dragon slayer who was castrated by his in-laws.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A married couple (two women) kisses three times, and other than location (cheek, forehead, and one unspecified area) the kisses aren't described.
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"Dammit," "crap," "bollocks," and "suck" each are used once.
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Products & Purchases
iPhones are mentioned several times, as is narrator Siobhan's Toyota Corolla. Other products mentioned once or twice each include Walmart, Tim Hortons, iPad, Lucky Charms, and McDonald's.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
There's a keg at a teen party, but narrator Siobhan doesn't drink any of its contents. Two boys at the party seem drunk.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim is more of a geo- and socio-political history of North America (with dragons) than a traditional dragon-based fantasy. Seekers of magical realms with talking dragons, princesses, and knights in shining armor won't find them here. The dragons are wild animals that attack because they're hungry, and humans have been fighting them since prehistoric times. The few scenes with dragon attacks are brief and not gruesome, although there's a short but gory description of one burned dragon egg.
Is It Any Good?
With THE STORY OF OWEN: DRAGON SLAYER OF TRONDHEIM, E. K. Johnston creates a vivid, realistic modern world -- in which there are dragons. The level of detail is remarkable, encompassing everything from the effects of dragons on daily life to popular culture, as well as small-town and global politics. As a result, the dragon-fighting action tends to get lost in the shuffle, and kids looking for traditional dragon-fantasy lore might be disappointed. The premise, overlaying the world we all know with the fantasy element of dragons, is engaging and unique. Late middle-school- and high-school-aged kids ready for some broader context for their world, or perhaps who are budding politicos themselves, will enjoy the seamless integration of dragons into human history.
The backdrop of an evolving friendship between Siobhan and Owen as they navigate 11th grade will give kids relatable, admirable characters. Telling, small moments between the two create a touching friendship worthy of emulation. The action builds slowly between long passages of history and politics, but for the more mature teen reader it strikes a good balance and builds well to the final action-filled climax.
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.