Author: Shannon Messenger
Publisher: Aladdin (a Simon & Schuster imprint)
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Number of Pages: 488
Source of Book: ARC from publisher at ALA
In this riveting debut, a telepathic girl must figure out why she is the key to her brand-new world--before the wrong person finds the answer first.*I was going to hold off on this review until a little bit closer to the release, but I'm so excited to share my love of it that I just couldn't wait! And, since it's my first Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post, it's only appropriate that it's Shannon Messenger's book. It could have all just been gush, gush, gushing recommendation, but I tried to format it in a little bit more productive way.
Twelve-year-old Sophie has never quite fit into her life. She's skipped multiple grades and doesn't really connect with the older kids at school, but she's not comfortable with her family, either. And Sophie has a secret--she's a Telepath, someone who can read minds. But the day Sophie meets Fitz, a mysterious (and adorable) boy, she learns she's not alone. He's a Telepath too, and it turns out the reason she has never felt at home is that, well...she isn't. Fitz opens Sophie's eyes to a shocking truth, and almost instantly she is forced to leave behind her family for a new life in a place that is vastly different from what she has ever known.
But Sophie still has secrets, and they're buried deep in her memory for good reason: The answers are dangerous and in high-demand. What is her true identity, and why was she hidden among humans? The truth could mean life or death--and time is running out.
A few months from now you'll be able to get this book, and you should (especially if you live or work with middle schoolers in any capacity)! KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES blew me away. I knew I really liked Shannon Messenger from following her on twitter and on her blog, and then when I heard she had a middle grades and a young adult book coming out as her debut, I was really looking forward to reading them-especially when I read the summary of each. As a middle school teacher, I was hoping I would like KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, and I am happy to say that I loved it! I would definitely recommend this middle grades magical fantasy to fans of HARRY POTTER and THE UNWANTEDS. It is a long book, but as it is written so well for the middle grades level, it isn't overwhelming. There is something just so engaging and fun and entertaining in Shannon Messenger's third person, descriptive, writing style, and I devoured this book in two days and didn't want to stop reading until I knew what would happen to these characters and world I wanted to be a part of.
Let's talk about Setting: Shannon Messenger has created an astoundingly creative fantasy world within KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from the summary alone, and I never expected the "place that is vastly different form what she has ever known" to be so well-developed and thought out. As I was reading an advance reader copy, it was missing the map artwork, so I look forward to getting a finished copy to enhance the reading experience even more. The world of the elves (and not what you ever pictured elves to be) is filled with fantastical creatures (especially love Iggy!), magically evolved elements, and cities built with beyond-this-world materials. This parallel world is such a discovery, not only for Sophie, but for the reader as well. The way it is described made me want to go live there as well. Beyond the Lost Cities within the elven world themselves, there is also Foxfire, which is the school for the nobility that Sophie ends up in. It is a school where she will be trained in her special ability and where she discovers people, places, things, strength, and friendships beyond what she ever would have imagined, and what I would have imagined as well.
We have to talk about Characters: KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES is full of interesting, multidimensional characters. The only thing that threw me a little bit as I read this book was the number of characters because their names are not ones we're used to hearing, so it did take awhile to keep track of who was who in the beginning. Not only do we get Sophie who has to make some tough decisions and look for people to support her, but we also get Fitz and his family, along with a multitude of other characters throughout the elf world. We see some of the most interesting jobs as Sophie meets these characters which adds to our understanding of how this world works. As she goes to school, we also meet Dex and Keefe among other classmates, and these two become some of the most entertaining characters to interact with Sophie. I kind of adore Keefe myself. He is the snarky guy who brings the humor that Sophie so desperately needs as she adjusts to her new life, and deep down, he is a really good, caring boy. We get some hints as to deeper things going on with Keefe, and I hope we get more of him in the next book. I also really adore Sophie. She has core values that I admire and fights for what she believes and knows is the right thing, even if it means she might get into trouble. I rooted for her as she is a young girl with so much strength and determination to do the right thing and help those she cares about. She is a strong character for the audience of this book.
Talking about Family is important: Sophie has to leave her family to join this hidden world where she actually belongs, and that means she is in a new place, realizing everything she thought she knew is not the way the world actually works, and has no family to rely on and call her own. When she gets placed with guardians to take responsibility for her, she has a whole new set of relationship dynamics to work on. In the end, the storyline with Sophie searching for family and her understanding of loss, adds such depth to the character and the overall book, and adds a dimension that I think many kids will relate to. I know these elements of searching for family to love her and support her and call her own brought some of the most poignant moments of the story for me. Because what child doesn't want a family to feel safe with and loved by? There was much more of an emotional element to this book than I expected going into it, and that's a great thing.
Now let's talk about Plot: While all of the subplots going on in this book add depth and interest to the story, the overall conflict at hand is a mystery as to why Sophie was living in the human world. Unfortunately, as Sophie is so young, the adults looking into things don't want to include her in the search, but as the clues build up, Sophie has to take it upon herself to try to find out what's happening and why and who is behind it. Messenger has written a novel with a tightly woven plot strongly balancing small elements, character development, descriptive details, world-building information, and enough action to keep things moving at an engaging pace.
I want to talk Sequel: I know a sequel is coming, and I can't wait to read it! Although I knew there would be a book following this one, I still feel that this book wrapped up its storyline in a satisfying way. There are no major cliffhangers here, but it still sets up where the second book will go for the next school year. I appreciate this so much because I don't feel like I've been left hanging, but I'm left with enough of a love for this book/world/characters that I definitely want to get my hands on the next book asap, and I hope you'll feel that way about this one, too!
I think this book will be a big middle grades hit for those who like fantasy and mystery books. From the Preface at the very start, I was hooked on the story as I was instantly pulled into what would have happened to get Sophie to this point. As the story wound it's way toward that time near the end, it became even more engaging. I think if you are a teacher or librarian or parent of middle school age kids, you and they will feel the same. I absolutely recommend you get KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES in October.