August 15, 2013
(+++) ADVENTURES SAD AND HAPPY
Life As We Knew It IV: The Shade of the Moon. By Susan Beth Pfeffer. Harcourt. $17.99.
The Never Girls #3: A Dandelion Wish. By Kiki Thorpe. Illustrated by Jana Christy. Random House. $6.99.
The conclusion of the Life As We Knew It tetralogy is as dour as the first three books and, like them, goes over a good deal of the same story even while advancing the plot. The works are set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia filled with many of the types usually found in such stories: good people and bad, safe havens that prove less than safe, families and unrelated people who bond as families, death and violence and threats thereof, and so on. In the final book, readers rejoin Jon Evans and his family two years after they have left Pennsylvania in their search for a safe place to live. They have found one: a protected enclave called Sexton, where Jon is welcome along with his stepmother, Lisa, and her son, Gabe, because they have three safe-town passes and – equally important – Jon is a really good soccer player. His abilities allow him to provide some protection to his sister, Miranda, who lives outside Sexton’s walls; Miranda’s diary entries were the basis for the first book in this series, about a meteor impact with the moon that drastically alters Earth’s climate. In the latest book, Jon’s staying power depends on his continued athletic ability, which makes it a fragile thing, and in this typically paranoid and desperately unhappy world, he knows that stepping out of line in any way – on the field or off it – could be disastrous. From this he comes to a realization, quite typical in genre books like this, that a place that appears safe is really a prison of sorts, and to be truly free and true to himself, he will have to give up physical safety before it is arbitrarily taken from him. This is an old, old plot – there is little new in Susan Beth Pfeffer’s approach to her material in any of the Life As We Knew It books – but Pfeffer does handle the plot’s progress with commendable skill, even when readers are sure to realize that noble sacrifices and extremely tough decisions lie ahead not only for Jon but also for other central characters. Inevitably, the book ends with Jon salvaging some optimism from despair and looking ahead to “a future worth fighting for.” This too is scarcely surprising, but young readers who have followed the earlier books and wondered what happened to the characters in them will find The Shade of the Moon a satisfying wrapup – although it must be said that there are enough loose ends for yet another potential novel to be set in the same world.
The world of Disney’s The Never Girls is a much brighter and more-pleasant one, even though it does have some moments of mostly mild adventure to go with plenty of all-girl bonding. Pfeffer writes for preteens and young teenagers; Kiki Thorpe writes for ages 6-10, although The Never Girls will likely be most appealing toward the younger end of that age range. The third book, A Dandelion Wish, takes the story of four normal girls who visit the fairy world a small step beyond the events of In a Blink and The Space Between. The girls get to Pixie Hollow in Never Land through a broken slat in a backyard fence, and the fence has to stay broken for the magic to work. So the question now is what happens when the fence is repaired – with one of the girls on the Never Land side. Kate, Mia, Lainey and Gabby are not particularly well-differentiated as characters – this is more a group adventure than a solo experience or individual coming-of-age story – but they affirm again and again that they are good friends and will look out for and help each other, and that is really the message underlying the magic happenings here. The dangers in the book are mostly mundane – going through the wrong board, dealing with a lawn mower – and fairies and girls have similar concerns and worries: human Gabby tells Iridessa that fairy magic will get them home, but the fairy unhappily thinks, “If only I had the right magic to help us now.” But everything does turn out just fine, to the surprise of no one – certainly not readers – and a timely end-of-book appearance by Tinker Bell (this is a Disney book, after all) sets the stage for the grand finale of the sequence, which is due in the fall and will be called From the Mist. It will surely be magical enough for fans of the first three series entries.