by Lauren Oliver
Publisher: Harper Collins
Source: Received ARC from Publisher
Source: Received ARC from Publisher
I do really like this cover- it is cute and I think it is a good cover for a Middle Grade book. I like the lettering of the title and the land spreading out behind the little girl just screams 'Bridge to Terabithia', which I haven't read but imagine is similar to this novel.
Plot SynopsisLooking across the breakfast table one morning, twelve-year-old Liza feels dread wash over her. Although her younger brother, Patrick, appears the same, Liza knows that he is actually quite different. She is certain that the spindlers-evil, spiderlike beings-came during the night and stole his soul. And Liza is also certain that she is the only one who can rescue him.
Armed with little more than her wits and a huge talking rat for a guide, Liza descends into the dark and ominous underground to save Patrick's soul. Her quest is far from easy, and the road to the spindlers' nests is riddled with danger. She must brave tree snakes, the Court of Stones, and shape-shifting serpents before facing her greatest challenge in the spindlers' lair, where more than just Patrick's soul is at stake.
'One night when Liza went to bed, Patrick was her chubby, stubby, candy-grubbing and pancake-loving younger brother, who irritated her and amused her both, and the next morning, when she woke up, he was not.'
I liked this book a lot, probably because it is the kind of book I would've read as a child! Very magical and full of strange, ethereal creatures and absurdity.
Highs: I really liked the world Oliver created, and the creatures that inhabited it. Very Alice in Wonderland meets Beatrix Potter meets Coraline.Lows: Liza isn't the most exciting heroine and the story did verge on boring at times.
When I finished this book, I had a look through a few reviews on Goodreads to get some second opinions. I found that, like me, most people had compared to it other things they had seen or read! Whilst I read it I was reminded of Coraline by Neil Gaiman, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, The Borrowers by Mary Norton, The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse by Beatrix Potter and Peter Pan by J.M Barrie. It also reminded me of the Studio Ghibli animated film Spirited Away. I have seen a lot of other people compare it to Coraline, Alice in Wonderland and also the film Labyrinth. It is a story that has deep roots in a variety of different kinds of children's fiction, and borrows ideas from many which helps to make it a wonderful journey through a magical and absurd underground landscape.
As in Gaiman's Coraline, Liza's parents are out of touch with their children due to the outside stresses of life and work. As the story is told through Liza's eyes, all she sees is an 'exclamation' point frown between her mother's eyes growing ever deeper and her father too busy and preoccupied to play with them anymore. Liza is outraged and frustrated by her parents behaviour, and their inability to explain to her why she shouldn't think or say certain things. Liza is very imaginative and dreamy, and when she tries to tell her parents about the gnomes in the garden or the spindlers who have stolen her brother's soul, they are dismissive and tired of her stories. Therefore, it is really up to Liza to follow the Spindlers into their world 'Below' and save her brother, Patrick, before his soul is lost forever.
I loved the beginning of the book, where Liza realises that the boy who looks and sounds like her brother is, in fact, a replica left by the Spindlers after they snatched his soul in the night. There is something really creepy and sinister about a replica family member who is exactly the same apart from tiny things that only you would notice. For example, Patrick usually fidgets, snores and drools in his sleep but when Liza sneaks in to check on him he is completely still. Patrick is extremely ticklish, but when Liza tickles his tummy he doesn't react. He just stares at Liza with dead, black eyes in total silence; so sinister! Things that look nice an normal on the outside but are evil inside really get to me because you never quite know when they are going to turn and really show their dark side. I don't like the not knowing! Liza knows instantly that the Spindlers have stolen his soul, because their babysitter always warned them about Spindlers and their spindly ways. Their ways really are quite terrifying,
'They had dropped down from the ceiling on their glistening webs of shadowed darkness and dropped their silken threads in his ear, and extracted his soul slowly, like a fisherman coaxing a trout from the water on a taut nylon fishing line. In its place they deposited their eggs; then they withdrew to their shadowed, dark corners and their underground lairs with his soul bound closely in silver thread...eventually, the soulless shell would crumble to dust, and a thousand spindlers- nested and grown- would burst forth, like a lizard hatching from an egg.'
Bluerghfhfhg. Liza then travels, through her basement, into the world 'Below' where the Spindlers make their nests. Almost immediately she is greeted by a rat, named Mirabella, dressed in a newspaper skirt and hat and wearing lashings of makeup, who agrees to guide her through the world Below and take her to the Spindler nests. I really loved the journey through the world, as it really reminded me of the Faraway Tree books by Enid Blyton that I read as a child, where a new world (sometimes nice, sometimes nasty) could be found at the top of a magical tree. 'Below' is full of interesting, weird and wonderful characters that really ignite the imagination. There are 'troglods' who hold a troglod market for all the bits and bobs they find 'Above' such as broken mirrors, pins and pencil lead. There are 'lumer lumpen' who are glow worms who light their way through the dark, twisted forest. But my favourites by far were the 'nocturni' which look like beautiful, black butterflies. The nocturni drink from the River of Knowledge and then go 'Above' and bestow it upon the human which then becomes their dreams. Every human has their own nocturni who stays with them forever, even after they die. That was the bit I loved the most,
'the nocturni...carry souls into the Shadow World when we die, where they will watch over them and keep them safe forever. Some say that is nocturni's ultimate purpose.'
Liza then finds her own nocturna and I love their exchange here;
'So you're my nocturna?
Liza thought about this. Then you've known me for my whole life?
Again came the rustling, fluttering laughter, like a pitter-patter in her heart.
Far longer than that.'
I love the idea of these black butterflies looking after our souls for infinity and knowing more about us then even we do. I also liked that each nocturna was slightly different, like a lacy black snowflake; in my head they're just so pretty!
I think that this story was well pitched and well paced for the age group it is targeted at. I find it difficult to review because I feel I wasn't its target audience and I think it is the kind of story I would've loved as a child. I liked Liza, who is described as, 'both very sane and extremely practical', which reminded me very much of the farm girl Sophie from Dick King Smith's Sophie series. She is bold and courageous, but, for me, lacked an interesting, developed personality which I think Oliver could have done better. I liked the dynamic between Liza and Mirabella the rat, and felt that Mirabella was actually a better developed character and one I felt I really got to know. The Spindlers didn't scare me (even though I am afraid of spiders); what really creeped me out were the fake Patrick and the three beautiful women at the end who aren't what they appear to be. Overall, I found it a creative and imaginative story about the magic of stories and childhood and the importance of letting children play and dream. I think Lauren Oliver is a master storyteller and I can't wait to read her YA fiction next!
This Book has Inspired me to Read: Lauren Oliver's YA books such as 'Delirium' and 'Before I Fall'- I own them both but haven't read them! I have had 'Before I Fall' on my bookshelf for aggges. Also, I know she wrote 'Liesl an Po' which is another MG book so I might have to check that out too!
"The seeds are full of light. Each seed contains as much light as your sun!"
Liza stared at her. "Impossible."
Mirabella swept her tail around her wrist and gave an imperious sniff. "That is a human word," she said. "And a very ugly one at that. We have no use for it Below."
'Liza told herself stories as though she was weaving and knotting an endless rope. Then, no matter how dark or terrible the pit she found herself in, she could pull herself out, inch by inch and hand over hand, on the long rope of stories.'
Three Words to Describe this Book: Absurd, Cute, Magical.
But Don't Take My Word For It:
- Blog Reviews of 'The Spindlers':
Proud Book Worm says:
'Liza’s story is a fun, whimsical adventure. While I didn’t find it really all that creepy, I think some children in the MG reading level might get a little spooked.'
Midnight Book Girl says:
'There isn't anything groundbreaking in this book, the plot is a tad predictable but I was still anxious for Liza and enchanted (and terrified) of the world.'