The Forbidden Library
Penguin, 2014 373 pgs Grades 5-8
Alice's only known relative, her father, dies in a tragic accident and she is sent to live with an uncle she has never heard of. He lives in a creepy old old house with equally creep servants. There is a huge library that Alice is not allowed to explore even though she is a voracious reader. Finally, with the help of a talking cat Alice enters the library. Once she opens a book in the library, she finds herself inside the book. The books in the library contain trapped evil creatures and Alice can learn to harness their power. This ability makes Alice a "reader" and an important commodity to her "uncle" and other competing wizards. Alice learns to work her new abilities while determining who to trust, all the while trying to find answers about her missing father.
The Forbidden Library has a great premise. I'm a sucker for any book dealing with libraries and magical books. I found The Forbidden Library to be a bit of a disappointment. It was very dark and Gothic without the tight, atmospheric storytelling of, for example, Neil Gaiman. There was no contrast and felt a bit bogged down. My mind kept wandering as I read the book and I felt it went on too long. There were some surprising twists to the plot, but it takes a while to get there, The book leaves the answer to Alice's father's whereabouts open, setting itself up for a sequel, which I also found a bit tedious. The characters are undeveloped and I feel like I still don't know Alice, even after spending 373 pages with her. I may have gone into the book with a preconceived notion of it being similar to Inkheart (where the heroine can read characters out of books). Inkheart is a lot more exciting, more fun, better written and has an interesting setting. That said. The Forbidden Library will satisfy kids looking for creepy fantasy. And it does contain secretive, talking cats, who are pretty cool. The book will contain illustrations, but since I was reading a pre-published copy of the book, I didn't have a chance to see them. I will be purchasing a copy of this book for my library and it will find an audience, but its not for impatient readers.