Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sara's Library: The Suburb Beyond the Stars

The Suburb Beyond the Stars by M.T. Anderson
Book two of the Norumbegan quartet
Scholastic 2010

Summary from Goodreads: "Something very strange is happening in Vermont. It's not The Game of Sunken Places - Brian and Gregory have been through that before, and there's not supposed to be another Game until they say there's a Game. But still . . . when they go to visit a relative in the Vermont woods, they find many things are . . . off. Like, people aren't where they're supposed to be. And houses are everywhere. In fact, the houses seem to be taking over."

Review: First of all, this is a sequel to The Game of Sunken Places, which I never posted about here as I read it during (and for) library school.  While it certainly helps to read the first book in the series, enough of the plot from the previous book is recapped here for those who may not have read it.  It's been well over a year since I read the first one, and after the first couple of chapters, I had no problem following along.

In the first book, two boys from Boston, Brian and Gregory, go to Vermont to visit Gregory's relatives and end up playing a real-life game involving elves, trolls, and the like in order to help a race called the Norumbegans prevent another race, the Thusser, from invading.  Brian wins the game at the end of the first installment, and thus it now falls to him to prepare the next stage of the game.

And this is where our story begins.  Except that one of the robots for Brian's game tries to kill him and the fae creating the automatons is missing.  So Brian and Gregory return to Vermont to ask the advice of his cousin, Prudence, who was the previous winner before Brian.  But things are not what they seem in Vermont.  Prudence, too, is missing, and time seems to move at a changeable pace.  And a dead man is selling real estate.

Since Mr. Anderson is the author of one of my absolute favorite young adult novels (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation), I always tend to be a bit disappointed by his middle grade fare.  It's not that it's bad, by any means.  But one can easily tell that he finds it difficult to write for this age group, as opposed to his young adult works, where he doesn't have to reign himself in.

While the first book in the series was pretty standard fantasy, this second installment has some interesting horror elements, including people being absorbed into walls, a flying wraith-like creature, and a living home hungry for its occupants.  It's in these terror-driven scenes that Mr. Anderon's prose really shines here.  Younger readers may be disturbed by some of the imagery he describes, so be forewarned.

My only real complaint was with the structure of the chapters, most of which were between 4 and 10 pages. Nearly every chapter ended on a cliff-hanger, which was promptly resolved at the beginning of the next chapter.  I realize that this is a children's book, but I felt it would have been more successful had Mr. Anderson heightened the tension.

The third installment is available and promises to keep with the darker tone introduced here.  No announcement has yet been made about the final volume.

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