Friday, June 16, 2006


Ten-pages-in book review: The Unwritten Girl

I’m trying to diversify my 10-pages-in book reviews a little bit. I’ve worked in some memoirs, a travelogue, plenty of CanLit, some anthologies and a pulp mystery. Today, we venture into the world of young-adult oriented fantasy in a charming book called The Unwritten Girl.

It’s a classic quest tale with a literary twist. Protagonist Rosemary Watson is a bookish sort, teased by the more popular kids in school. When her brother Theo becomes lost in a book – literally – she and the vaguely mysterious but kindly new kid in town, Peter McAllister, are drawn into a quest through the Land of Fiction to rescue him. In the Land of Fiction, they must overcome challenges based on the books Rosemary has started but was unable to finish.

It’s a simple story, cleanly (perhaps even sparsely) written and with little depth to the characters, but it’s entirely engaging. I planned to stop after the first 60 pages or so to write this review, but I kept creeping forward, devouring a few more pages and then a few more, until I’d devoured most of it over the course of a few rides home on the bus.

The Canadian blogosphere is not a huge space, and it’s through that connection that I “know” first-time author James Bow. He is, among other things, the organizing force behind the Canadian Alliance of Non-Partisan Bloggers. I had seen he had a book coming out, and had received an invitation to the Ottawa launch a few weeks back, which I couldn’t attend. But my curiousity was piqued enough to want to take a look at a book by someone roughly in my demographic, from Ontario to boot, who actually managed to write a book. I was, quite honestly, pleasantly surprised by what a clever, charming little book it is.

The book is by turns adventurous, spooky and laugh-out-loud funny. I love the sense of fun James brings to this story. For example, in the Land of Fiction, Rosemary and Peter are escorted by a wise character called Puck (yes, the Shakespearean one) and they have the following exchange:

“What is that?” asked Peter.
“An idea—the fruit of an idea tree.” Puck grinned.
“Ideas grow on trees?” said Rosemary.
“Where else would they be?” said Puck. “Tis a shame they are not more common.” He bounced the ball once and twirled it to Peter and Rosemary. Written in black text on a white stripe were the words, “What if rugs could fly?”
"Ideas fall from the trees and are blown across this beach," said Puck, "and into the great black sea that surrounds the Land of Fiction. In time, they build the land itself."
“Neat,” said Peter, “But why is this ‘fruit’ made of rubber?’”
“So I can do this,” said Puck. He snatched up the ball and bounced it off Peter’s head.“I am bouncing an idea off you!”

Reading this book reminds me very much of how I feel when I’m reading the Harry Potter books. A detached, older me is impressed by the creativity, the ideas, and how the book comes together, but mostly my (barely repressed) inner-fourteen-year-old is blissfully wrapped up in a rollicking good tale.

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