Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review: 'Land of Stories' by Chris Colfer

"Conner,” Alex whispered close to him. “Look around this place! It's
like we're having our own Lucy and Mr. Tumnus moment!”
Connor looked around and saw what she meant. “If he offers us Turkish
delight, I don't care what you say: We're getting out of here.”

Ever since their father’s death a year ago, things haven’t gone well for twins Alex and Connor Bailey. They have had to move out of their childhood home, their mom is constantly working, and they’ve lost their biggest confidant. But everything changes when the twins fall into a magical book and find themselves trapped in the Land of Stories. Here, familiar fairy tales, bad guys and all, are real, and
the twins’ only chance of returning home is collecting all the items for the rumored Wishing Spell.

I am not a huge Glee fan (I watch it on fast forward), but Kurt is one of my favorite characters. When I saw that Chris Colfer, the actor who plays Kurt, had written a book (and a fairy tale book, no less), I immediately pre-ordered it. What can I say? I’m all about supporting actors and authors I enjoy. I am positive that a great majority of the book sales that landed this book on the New York Times Bestseller List are for similar reasons.

Happily, The Land of Stories was a well-written, pleasing read. The writing style is easy without being simplistic, perfect for the target audience. The basic construction of the plot isn’t overly original, but quest tales are inherently similar. There is plenty of action to keep readers turning pages, several small mysteries that are not resolved until the end of the story, and lots of adventure and daring-do. I did see the resolution to the mysteries coming a mile away, but I am a good twenty years older than the target reader and would have felt kind of silly had I not solved them. I think the mysteries will hold true for the target audience, and the twins’ adventures through the Land of Stories are sure to hook readers.

However, what elevates the story are the amazing characterizations. The twins are a perfect balance for each other: Alex is smart, serious and rule-abiding, while Connor is the sarcastic kid who isn’t averse to breaking rules. Connor’s dialogue was my favorite, by far, simply because I appreciate any twelve-year-old who has already embraced his dry, sarcastic side.  But despite Connor’s snark and Alex’s exasperation with him, the twins stick by each other through it all.

Colfer has also done an excellent job imbuing each familiar fairy tale character with a distinct personality. My particular favorites were Rapunzel as a self-sufficient outlaw, and Red Riding Hood as a clueless, bratty queen, but I also appreciated Colfer’s back story for the Evil Queen from Snow White.  It allowed other characters in the book, as well as readers, to feel compassion for her situation and introduced shades of gray into what could easily have been a very black and white world.

Colfer has obviously put a lot of thought into the structure of the fairy tale world and it shows. I listened to the audio book, so didn’t have the benefit of looking at the illustrations while I was reading, but there is a full color map of the various kingdoms (adorably named such things as the Charming Kingdom and the Sleeping Kingdom).  There are also charming pencil sketches at the beginning of each chapter that are very reminiscent of Rowling's Harry Potter novels. Every kingdom had a different feel to it, and it was fun exploring each one alongside the twins.

Celebrities often inspire an eye-roll or two when they publish a book, but occasionally there are some that are worth reading. The Land of Stories is one of those few. It certainly won’t win points for deep
insights and inspired prose, but it is a charming, well-written story that seems perfectly suited to the target audience. At the very least, it ought to make Glee fans happy!

Book Source: Purchased
Reviewer: Kimberly

Recommended Ages: Officially recommended for ages 8 and up. Will probably have the biggest appeal for tweens and young teens who aren’t ready to dive into YA fiction. And fans of Glee, obviously.

Recommended to Readers of: