My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Good YA literature will stay with me long after I am finished with it, even as an adult. I would have been in the prime target audience for this book when I was a teenager, and I would have devoured it (pun intended). The story was a pleasant surprise on several levels. First, the author has a real gift for character and voice, especially with young teens. She manages to tell a fantastical story without talking down or condescending to her audience, while at the same time not going to any of the despairing, hopeless, or crazy places I feared she might be heading with the supernatural element.
I also thought the Unitarian-Universalist church music group was handled very well: the author described the dark side that can develop in such communities, without going overboard. With one notable exception, everybody in the story was human–adults and kids alike–and nobody was irredeemable. These people were authentic UUs, struggling and often failing to live out their beliefs in inclusion, tolerance and the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
There were times when Haley seemed a little too mature for her years. In her interactions with Rosa, and with Kirsten in particular, she kept her cool much better than I would have, and I’m her parents’ age, not hers. And her whole plan to save everyone, including the magical creature who was carrying out her deepest most destructive desires, succeeded remarkably, and improbably, well for something conceived of by two desperate 14-year-olds in study hall. This section of the novel describing her trip north may go on a bit too long, with too many stops to put out raw hamburger and visit the McDonald’s restroom. But it also came across as realistic, and it succeeded in building suspense, making me fear a much more dreadful crash and burn than actually occurred in the story. I had come to like and care about Haley, so the ending came as a relief.
Haley’s realizations at the memorial service are another instance of her seeming more mature than she should be, given her stated age, but I don’t think it’s a serious enough issue to prevent readers from enjoying the book. She has done something heroic and survived, and she knows it. She is Dorothy returned from Oz, with the realization that what she needed was already within her all the time. Readers accompanying her on the journey will feel this way too.