A “humdumly Sister and hohumly Brother” are unlikely heroes in Young’s debut work of middle-grade fantasy.
The siblings live in the walled town of Nottingswood, a dreary place with no color or happiness. It’s an ordered society that protects its townsfolk from emotions such as love, fear, or sadness. The long-ago Guardian of the town has been banished, and the Judge has ordered the construction of a Great Wall to block out the sun. The unexpected appearance of a small, unknown creature threatens Nottingswood’s regimented existence. Only Brother and Sister refuse to leave the creature to die. They sneak it home—away from the prying eyes of the town and the Order of Voices and the Judge—and manage to care for it. Perhaps anticipating confusion, the creature comes equipped with a magic plaque that spells out its needs—“I’m hungry. Feed me.” To secure food, they must steal beyond the walls of Nottingswood, into the terrifying wide world where a mythical beast is rumored to live. They discover there is no beast but a world of beauty and color. Something happened in Nottingswood that resulted in the town’s grim existence, when “folk[s] heeded the shadows instead of the light.” Now Brother and Sister find themselves on a path of inadvertent rebellion. Young’s whimsical narrative is superb. He spins a fairy tale written almost exclusively in verse that flows beautifully throughout his short tale. It’s a joy to watch the transformation of Brother and Sister from proper citizens to enlightened dissenters. The fairy-tale elements, such as magical creatures and an enchanted cloak, will appeal to a young audience, while the underlying moral questions of good and evil, the privilege of free will, and the value of taking risks will intrigue readers of all ages. Grace’s cleverly drawn illustrations vivify the adventure, and those of the evil Ms. Grouse are particularly fun. While Young’s work feels inspired by Dr. Seuss and C.S. Lewis, he creates a story that is uniquely his own.
A touching fable that speaks to readers of all ages.