Monday, November 28, 2011

The Door In The Forest

Horn Book (March/April, 2011)

In a fictional 1923, in a time of "Uncertainties," Daniel is troubled by two things. One is the unreachable island in the middle of the forest ("The place pushed back against all your attempts, setting out twisted thickets of hedge-apple trees bristling with curved, medieval-looking thorns"); the other is his inability to lie, which renders him unpopular. Both are central when calamity descends on the town in the form of mad Captain Sloper. Claiming they are rooting out traitors, Sloper and his soldiers shell the protected island -- when they aren't harassing Daniel's new friend Emily, who seems to have a special relationship to it. Only after multiple confrontations with the military and a visit to the mysterious island do Emily and Daniel unravel the relevant puzzles. Townley's fanciful story swings like a pendulum from Wild West tall tale to a vague mysticism that is enlivened by colorful imagery. At the novel's not-so-strong moments, plot and episode waver in their logic. At its considerable best, it is quirky and engaging; sentences hurry purposefully along, deepening atmosphere, theme, and plot ("The trees [were] deeply shadowed, as if they knew more about night than the rest of us"). deirdre f. baker

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