Reading Measurement Programs:
Lexile Measure 710
ISBN: 9781442427266 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781442427280 (ebook)
Reviewer: Leslie Worrell Christianson (Catholic Library World, September 2012 (Vol. 83, No. 1)).
Zombay is not an easy place to live for an orphan boy named Rownie whose brother Rowan is missing. Rowan disappeared after performing with a troop of Goblin actors. In order to find his brother, Rownie has to run away from Graba, a menacing and cruel witch with metal clockwork chicken legs, who takes in stray children. Performing and wearing masks is against the law for citizens of Zombay. Goblins are people that have been “changed” and are no longer citizens, so their performances are ignored by the Lord Mayor’s guard. Rownie joins the troop of Goblins who are also looking for Rowan because he holds the key to the future of Zombay. Rownie begins to secretly perform and wear masks while with the troop. His forbidden friendship with these castaways reveals that the Goblin’s ancient craft of mask making is tied to the heart and soul of the city. Rownie eventually finds his brother but their reunion only reveals a new purpose and relationship for the pair. The visual imagery of this book swirls together, darkness, clanking and grinding metal, gears, cogs and teeth, burning, and automatons with adventure, humor, hope, transforming waters, and friendship. Like a folktale, this book has a magical and dreamy atmosphere that juxtaposes the beauty and release of myth with the gruesomeness of life in Zombay. 2012, Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster, Ages 8 to 13, $16.99.
Reviewer: Kate Quealy-Gainer (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, April 2012 (Vol. 65, No. 8)).
A tempestuous river divides the city of Zombay into two parts: the wealthy, aristocratic Northside, run by the Mayor and his gearworked Guard, and the Southside, whose impoverished residents are under the control of Graba, a powerful, cruel witch who takes in orphans to be her servants. Rownie and his older brother, Rowan, have been her charges since their parents were taken by the River, but Rowan has recently gone missing after performing in an illegal play. Rownie runs away to join a goblin theater troupe in the hopes that the actors might have a clue to Rowan’s whereabouts, and he learns that Rowan was to play an essential part in a ritual meant to save the town from an impending flood—so his disappearance means certain doom for the citizens of Zombay. The appeal here lies in Alexander’s careful construction of a distinctive world: touches of steampunk can be found in Graba’s geared-up legs and the Mayor’s automaton guards while a more ancient, primal magic seems to guide the goblins and their powerful brand of storytelling. The plot, however, sputters at points, with action scenes often limping to uneventful conclusions and the River’s villainy never quite crystallized beyond a vague threat. Rownie is a sweet kid, however, and although he is a lifelong resident of Zombay, his innocence and bewilderment at the seedier sides of his town provide a nice access point for younger readers. Rowan’s savage ultimate fate may be a bit of a shock, but the bittersweet ending remains true to the story’s overall dreamy, melancholic tone. 2012, McElderry/Simon & Schuster, Grades 4 to 7, $16.99.