I am currently taking a course on library services for young adults in which I have been asked to review 10 books, so I have decided to post my reviews here too. The first one is a review of The Book Without Words by Avi. This book will probably appeal to kids between the ages of 12 and 15. Themes include friendship and loyalty, and there are some magical elements.
Thorston is an old man who has spent his life desperately searching for a way to return to his youth and never die. The secret for doing so is locked in a “Book Without Words” that can only be read by people with green eyes and a great desire. Part of the magic spell for restoring Thorston’s youth involves the sacrifice of a thirteen year old child. Thorston’s servant girl, Sybil, fits that bill. Sybil, who has only been with Thorston for four months, is unaware of Thorston’s intentions. The initial part of the spell causes Thorston to appear dead for several hours, during which time Sybil and Thorston’s talking raven, Odo, discover Thorston’s plan and try to thwart it.
Amazon says that this book has a reading level of 9-12 (which I only noticed after I read it), but I think that would be difficult for children that young to understand. The vocabulary is quite complex and the author does not do a lot to explain the background of what it was like to live in the middle ages. (Non-native English speakers might find it particularly difficult, both in terms of language and content.) Here is an example, taken from the first page of the book.
“It [the fog] clung to the crumbling city walls. It heightened the stench of rotten hay and offal, of vinegary wine and rancid ale. It muffled the sound of pealing church bells calling the weary faithful to apprehensive prayers.”
While this book seems to have gotten good reviews on Amazon, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would because I felt that the characters were not very nuanced. Good people were good and did good things and bad people were bad and did bad things. Also, I think the author was trying to write a book about the importance of friendship and loyalty, but I don’t feel that he succeeded on that front either.
While it was not badly written, I think that I would have given up on this book when I was a teenager as the descriptions (as in the quote above) are a bit laborious. But that may have more to do with me as a reader than Avi as an author. I like it when the words make the plot move forward or tell me more about the character and I tend to feel like the author is wasting my time when he uses more than ten words to tell me about the fog. Readers who like a good, lengthy description will probably be able to enjoy this book more than I did.