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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy" by Karen Foxlee (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

OVERVIEW: A modern-day fairy tale set in a mysterious museum that is perfect for readers of Roald Dahl and Blue Balliett.

Unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard doesn't believe in anything that can't be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia's help.

As Ophelia embarks on an incredible journey to rescue the boy everything that she believes will be tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy's own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world.

A story within a story, this a modern day fairytale is about the power of friendship, courage and love, and never ever giving up.

FORMAT: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a children's novel based off of the retelling of Anderson's 'The Snow Queen'. It has elements of magic and a whimsical fairy tale like quality to it. The novel stands at 233 pages and was published January 28, 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf.

ANALYSIS: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a partial re-telling of Anderson's "The Snow Queen", and with the success of Disney's Frozen, I thought it would be an amazing children's novel. Unfortunately, this novel just didn't click with me, but that isn't to say it won't click with its general audience.

There is really very little to set this novel apart from the dozens of other children's novels that have similar storylines. There is the girl who doesn't believe in magic, the mysterious boy from another magical land, and the fate of the world rests on making said girl believe. If she doesn't, the world will end. Change a few names, add a few quirky characteristics and you have Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy.

One of the major things that make a novel strong is the author's character building. While I understand a 230 page novel can't have extensive background on the characters, this novel just didn't feel like it promoted the characters. They came across as very one-dimensional and really they were just vessels to move the storyline along.

Karen Foxless tries really hard to make the characters – or at least the main character – have all these little quirks that make her stand out and seem not so normal. For example, Ophelia is asthmatic. She takes 'squirts of her puffer' to calm herself down, when she's scared, when she's running – pretty much any time. Unfortunately, the phrase 'squirts her puffer' is used repetitively throughout the novel, to the point it lost its quirkiness and just became frustrating.

Another thing that really took away from the novel was the sections 'the marvelous boy' used to tell his story. When I first read his little story from his POV, it seemed fun, exciting and adventurous. After the second or third time, it seemed as if his stories became less a story and more information dumping sections so the reader could understand things.

The change in 'the marvelous boy's' story telling was a bit of a disappointment. I feel it was a missed opportunity to really change the story and make it shine and/or develop one of the main characters in the novel. Unfortunately, it did neither.

While there was a lot that didn't live up to expectations, there is one unique and 'fun' thing about Ophelia and The Marvelous Boy. It was the way it ended. I'm not really sure how I feel about the ending of the book, but it did make me really think – was what we read real or did we just take a trip through a young girl's imagination. It is this unique aspect of the book that I think will attract older readers to it.

Further exploring the ending of the book, it could be said on a deep philosophical level that the entire book was a metaphor for the grieving process that children go through. Sure, you can read this book as a fun, whimsical children's book, but there are certain elements that occur at the halfway point in this book that will turn it into a potential 'thought-provoking' novel.

Overall, I think Ophelia and The Marvelous Boy will appeal to its age range of 8 to 12. I don't think most readers in that age group will notice the major gaps in the storyline, the repetitive nature of some of the actions, or the lack of character development. To those readers, it will just be another novel to read. In fact, I don't think many of the readers in this age group will even get the whole metaphoric ending.

Adult readers on the other hand may struggle with some of the elements in this book. It may feel like just another children's novel filled with quirky characters and a fast-moving plot. I truly feel the ending is the best part of this book. I really liked the way it made me think – at least for a few minutes – about what I just read and I loved the exploration of the museum, but overall I don't think it is a book that will stay with me for years to come.  


Unknown said...

Reading this to my kids right now and I'm finding it increasingly tedious. At two different points, the main character, trying to guess the name of the "marvelous boy," recites all the male names she can think of in alphabetical order. This is as exactly as entertaining as it sounds.

At another point, she is gluing the locks of all the doors on one floor of a museum. The author describes the action like this: "She glued the lock to 731, then 732, 734, 735, and 736."

I can't wait to find out what happens next!

Could it be ... 737?

Lists of names and numbers. You literally can't get more boring than that.

I went looking for reviews of this book to see if anyone had a similar reaction, and you were one of the few people smart enough, or honest enough, to give it the thrashing it deserved.

So thanks for that.


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