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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers will learn a little bit about caving/exploring, but this is really a fantasy adventure that's intended to entertain rather than educate. Still, it's reading, and fans may want to follow the series into other installments
Although the story is often grim, with lots of betrayals, suspicion, and painful (physically and emotionally) incidents, the underlying themes are of loyalty, determination, and ultimately trying to do the right thing.
Positive Role Models
Will is a complex main character who, while always intending to be a good friend and do the right thing, is often distracted by his insatiable curiosity and his desire to impress his father. As a result, he doesn't always succeed in being there right away for the people who need him, though he usually comes through when it counts. The Styx are unrelentingly harsh and cruel, but it's clear that they're meant to be bad guys.
Violence & Scariness
Bloody and at times graphic. There's a brutal bare-knuckle fistfight in which the fighters are chained together until one is incapacitated and possibly killed; a mention of eyelids being torn off. Birds and frogs are impaled on sticks. A boy hits both other boys and a man with a shovel, in both cases causing serious injury. Two boys are tortured by adults with a device that causes pain and sickness. Children are attacked by giant dogs and cats, causing graphically described torn flesh. A fight to the death between men with machetes.
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Products & Purchases
Candy, soda, and cereal brands are mentioned, but not prominently.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults smoke cigarettes and pipes and drink gin, brandy, and beer. Groups of drunks hang out in housing projects and around bars. Children are given alcohol by adults and get tipsy and later hung-over.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this fantasy saga about an underground world has some grim and fairly graphic violence, including serious injuries (stabbings; brutal, bare-knuckle fist-fighting; children mauled by animals; a severed windpipe; etc.) and deaths. Two boys are tortured with a fantasy device. There is also some smoking and drinking, including children given alcohol by adults.
Is It Any Good?
This first book in the Tunnels series boasts an intriguing premise. There's just something about underground caverns and civilizations that's almost automatically appealing, and this is a particularly rich and nasty one, with cultish overtones and hints of an ancient history. And the authors have a knack for multi-sensory description that gives this tale an unusual grittiness as the characters -- and thus readers -- not only see the wonders and terrors of this underground world, but also smell them and feel the filth and desolation in a way that lets you know why they're often referred to as the bowels of the earth.
But TUNNELS also has some rookie mistakes from the first-time authors and suffers from the lax editorial hand that has become all too common in modern children's fantasy. Clocking in at more than 450 pages, the story meanders and drifts for the first third, often getting mired in exposition that will have English teachers everywhere yelling, "Show, don't tell!" It doesn't really pick up until nearly 200 pages in, which may cause it to lose some young readers. Those who do hang in will be treated to an exciting and suspenseful adventure, though one in which readers won't feel that they've really gotten to know any of the characters well. But there's enough good stuff here to give readers high hopes for the sequel.
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