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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"The Journal of Curious Letters" by James Dashner

Official 13th Reality Website
Official James Dashner Blog
Order “The Journal of Curious LettersHERE
Read Reviews of “The Journal of Curious Letters” via Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin’ Book Reviews, SciFi Chick, Scooper Speaks + The Soulless Machine Review

Having grown up on everything from Hardy Boys, Lloyd Alexander and the Chronicles of Narnia to Alice in Wonderland and Tom Swift, I’m no stranger to children’s literature/YA fiction and continue to follow the subgenre with great interest. While I’ve read—and enjoyed—a number of newer works such as the Harry Potter books, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Garth Nix’s Abhorsen novels, the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars and so on, I admit that I haven’t stayed on top of children’s literature/YA fiction as much as I would like, and it’s something that I’ve been wanting to rectify for a while now. Unfortunately, like urban fantasy, there is a very strong demand for children’s fiction nowadays—particularly Harry Potter-type books—and as a result there are so many series out there it’s difficult to keep track of everything. So when Shadow Mountain approached me to review the latest Fablehaven novel by Brandon Mull—the company also publishes the popular Leven Thumps books—I was hesitant about jumping into the middle of an already established franchise that I wasn’t familiar with. Luckily for me, I noticed that Shadow Mountain was starting a new children’s fantasy series in The 13th Reality by James Dashner—author of the Jimmy Fincher Saga—which sounded interesting and decided to review that instead :)

The Journal of Curious Letters” is the first volume in The 13th Reality series and introduces readers to Atticus HigginbottomTick to his friends & family—a fairly normal thirteen-year-old boy whose life is forever changed when he receives a mysterious letter requesting his assistance in a matter where the lives of many are at stake. Of course, in order for Tick and fellow youths Sofia Pacini & Paul Rodgers to fully accept the mission, they have to first prove they possess the courage, strength of mind and cleverness to persevere despite such difficult obstacles as Tingle Wraiths, Gnat Rats and the nefarious Mistress Jane, while also solving the Twelve Clues by the appointed deadline… If, and only if they are able to accomplish all that will they finally learn of their destiny—a destiny that involves quantum physics, parallel universes, cemeteries, nanolocators, Barrier Wands, Chi’karda and the 13th Reality which threatens all of existence!

Even though “The Journal of Curious Letters” is one of those books that can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of age, I believe the novel will be appreciated more by younger readers. Because for me, as charming and as entertaining as I found the book, and as quickly as I finished it, I couldn’t help but think I’ve seen all this before. I mean the riddles; the nerdy protagonist with a trademark quirk—in this case, never taking off a red & black scarf that covers up a birthmark on Tick’s neck—outrageous names like Atticus Higginbottom, Fruppenschneiger and Mothball; and a witty, humorous writing style have all been done to death. Just look at any of the other children’s fantasy series out there today for examples with Harry Potter leading the way :) As far as the parallel universes, that’s been done countless times as well with His Dark Materials one of the more recent, while Chi’karda reminded me of the White & Black Imagination concept from Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars, and the windbikes & fangen made me have flashbacks of Return of the Jedi and the Wizard of Oz. Like I said, a lot of the material in “The Journal of Curious Letters” seemed familiar to me, but I’m pretty sure that younger readers won’t have that same problem :)

Now there’s nothing wrong with wearing influences on your sleeve as long as it’s not blatant or uninspiring and fortunately James Dashner’s book is neither. In fact, James’ writing is quite accomplished and he does a terrific job of narrating realistically through the voice of a thirteen-year-old boy while delivering a deftly plotted tale of adventure, intrigue and the fantastical that is fun, smart, and perhaps most importantly, relevant. And this is the main reason why I believe a younger audience will appreciate “The Journal of Curious Letters” more than adults. For as entertaining as the book is, “The Journal of Curious Letters” doesn’t disguise the fact that it also offers several valuable moral lessons that youths can learn from such as trusting in your parents, not hiding who you are, understanding the consequences of your decisions, not judging people by their appearances and so on.

In short, between the lessons that “The Journal of Curious Letters” teaches, the book’s obvious appeal, James’ strong writing, memorable characters and an intriguing blend of science fiction & fantasy, “The Journal of Curious Letters” is a fantastic novel that will be greatly adored by youths, parents and teachers alike. As far as more experienced readers, “The Journal of Curious Letters” doesn’t really offer anything that refreshing or original, but it is entertaining and I’m personally looking forward to continuing the series, especially so I can learn more about the thirteen different realities and Tick’s unique gift…


Harry Markov said...

That is why I don't do YA much. It's not in my blood to simply read what has been done before. I may read it because of world building, but won't enjoy it as much as I would with adult fiction.

I always have to read with the thought that the books are meant for a different age group and that is hard to keep in mind you know for me at least.

Mihai A. said...

Hi Robert,
Congrats for a great review. You can find also a review made by Ron Simpson at The Bookshelf Reviews, with a comment made by James Dashner.
Keep up the good job.

Tia Nevitt said...

I have this book and it's quite high in my reading stack. I'm looking forward to it, as my last MG book was a bit of a disappointment.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I don't think it matters too much about influences as long as the author doesn't turn into a pale imitation of those writers.

It seems he doesn't fall into that trap. I wonder if it'll get a UK release?

Robert said...

Daydream, I hear what you're saying. Of course personal tastes play an important role. In fact, my next review is of a children's book that I absolutely loved even though it's arguably more traditional than "The Journal of Curios Letters" ;)

Dark wolf, thanks for the compliment and the additional review!

Tia, I think you'll enjoy this book, but I'd recommend "On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness" if you don't have it already...

Gav, yeah everyone has their influences, so that doesn't bother me much. And in this case, James shows that he's a pretty accomplished storyteller :)

Aaron Wilson said...

Wow, I got listed on the most important genre review blog on the net! Thank you for including me, I’m honored.

I love your site and visit almost everyday. Keep up the good fight!


The Soulless Machine Review

Robert said...

LOL, well I don't think I'm that important, but thanks for the compliment :) You're welcome for the linkage Aaron. I check out your blog regularly and really like what you're doing, so whenever I get a chance to give it a shoutout, I will...

Unknown said...

I read YA a lot. The writing is simple, the stories are plot driven and I don't mind if it's sorta been done before. It leaves out a lot of stuff that I don't care about.

This looks great! I'll be at the school bookfair and see if they carry it.


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