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4 Stars Out Of 5
September 17, 2012
Finding interesting fiction for tweens can be tricky. This new series by L.L. Samson (AKA Lisa Samson) does just the trick. The concept is that three kids (13 y.o. twins and a 14 y.o.) join forces to help story characters find their way back to their story worlds.
In this first installment, Ophelia, Linus, and Walter interact with Quasimodo from the Hunchback of Notre Dame. While the original isn't necessarily a book I'd read with my 11 and 8 y.o.s, we were all engaged in this story that tied the story to a new framework. The narrator, a college janitor, peppers the story with big words, ideas, and literary instruction, but does it in a way that broadens the reader's understanding and is still engaging. There's a taste of magic to pull Quasi from Paris to Kingscross. The chapter titles are fun reminding me of the Percy Jackson series. And the chapters are short with exceptional cliffhangers that left my kids begging for just one more chapter.
At the same time, reading a couple three chapters a day wasn't enough for my daughter, who disappeared with the book because we were too slow. We enjoyed this book so much that I've purchased the second -- Moby Dick -- and we're all eagerly awaiting the next adventure of Ophelia, Linus, and Walter.
Twelve-year-old twins, Ophelia and Linus move in with their aunt and uncle and discover an old laboratory hidden in the attic. While Ophelia is reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame, she unintentionally activates one of the old scientist's inventions that transports Quasimodo into the present! It's then that the twins and their friend discover that the old scientist wants to capture Quasimodo, and the three kids do all they can to protect their literary friend and get him back into the book where he belongs.
What a clever premise for a series! You get a group of kids, a famous classical fictional character, and an adventure. I liked the characters a lotâ€”all of them. They were unique and fun. The story was told from a narrator who teaches the reader the definitions of big words and about the craft of writing as he tells the story. That did become a bit distracting at times. Along with the narrator, Ophelia is the big reader in the tale. Many references to classics were mentioned throughout the story, most of which will go over middle grade reader's heads, but they won't mind because they'll be caught up in the tale. For being put out by Zonderkidz, a Christian publishing house, I didn't notice a faith element in the story, which seemed odd. I did notice that two more books are planned involving the classics Moby Dick and The Three Musketeers. Looking forward to them!
In Facing the Hunchback of Notre Dame, fourteen-year-old twins Linus and Ophelia Easterday have been left to live with their aunt and uncle (also twins) in Kingscross, home of the famous (fictional) Americal university, while their parents go on a five-year research trip to do something important (well, something they think is important, anyway).
While exploring the old house they are now living in, Linus and Ophelia find a hidden attic filled with the belongings of the mysterious Cato, who used to own the house before he simply disappeared one day. The attic has a lot of strange books and bottles, and a large circle has been drawn on the floor. An â€˜accident' with a magic circle brings the fictional Quasimodo out of the classic Victor Hugo novel and into the Real World.
The twins find that Quasi will be with them for sixty hours, and that if they do not follow instructions exactly, he might end his days fizzing down to a pile of dirty rags. As they befriend the fictional hunchback, they find someone else knows about him, and wants to harm him. So, they join with Walter, their new neighbour, to protect Quasi and return him unharmed to fictional Paris (and providing the reader with the formulaic two boys-one girl mystery-solving trio that has worked so well in other series for this age group).
I don't read a lot of Middle Grade fiction, so I'm not entirely sure what represents the best of the genre (although having read a few of the High School Musical, Hannah Montana and Mary-Kate and Ashley books, I have a good understanding of how shallow and trite MG fiction can be). I enjoyed Facing the Hunchback of Notre Dame for what it was: a fun adventure story for 8-12 year olds, with a little classic literature and a few thoughts on good writing thrown in for educational value.
Facing the Hunchback of Notre Dame is a humorous and enjoyable story that would be a good book for reading aloud, and I can see it fitting well into a home schooling curriculum. There is even the odd interjection for the sake of the parents, and this humour, combined with the distinctive voice of the narrator (Bartholomew Inkster, janitor at Kingscross University) reminded me of Roald Dahl. There are a few too many exclamation marks for my taste, but I suppose it is the distinctive voice of the narrator and the age group the book is targeting.
Although it is published by Zondervan, Facing the Hunchback of Notre Dame is not an obviously 'Christian' novel, but it is a fun read, with a plot device that is well set up for a series (it is Book 1 of The Enchanted Attic series).
Thanks to Zonderkidz and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.