25 May 2012

Review: Facing the Hunchback of Notre Dame by L L Samson

Facing the Hunchback of Notre Dame, fourteen-year-old twins Linus and Ophelia Easterday have been left to live with their aunt and uncle (also twins) in Kingscross, home of the famous (fictional) Americal university, while their parents go on a five-year research trip to do something important (well, something they think is important, anyway).

While exploring the old house they are now living in, Linus and Ophelia find a hidden attic filled with the belongings of the mysterious Cato, who used to own the house before he simply disappeared one day. The attic has a lot of strange books and bottles, and a large circle has been drawn on the floor. An ‘accident' with a magic circle brings the fictional Quasimodo out of the classic Victor Hugo novel and into the Real World.

The twins find that Quasi will be with them for sixty hours, and that if they do not follow instructions exactly, he might end his days fizzing down to a pile of dirty rags. As they befriend the fictional hunchback, they find someone else knows about him, and wants to harm him. So, they join with Walter, their new neighbour, to protect Quasi and return him unharmed to fictional Paris (and providing the reader with the formulaic two boys-one girl mystery-solving trio that has worked so well in other series for this age group).

I don't read a lot of Middle Grade fiction, so I'm not entirely sure what represents the best of the genre (although having read a few of the High School Musical, Hannah Montana and Mary-Kate and Ashley books, I have a good understanding of how shallow and trite Middle Grade fiction can be). I enjoyed Facing the Hunchback of Notre Damefor what it was: a fun adventure story for 8-12 year olds, with a little classic literature and a few thoughts on good writing thrown in for educational value.  For example:

“It is within my nature to explain a bit of the writing process as I proceed. You may choose to either use these tidbits of information to increase your knowledge of English and the fine art of writing, or ignore the opportunity to learn literary technique from an expert and simply skip over my explanations. If you choose to ignore the input that I have so generously provided regarding the writing craft, then you may also choose to ignore the simplified definitions of some of the rather advanced words I’ve used within the story— words that I’ve explained at the request of Linus, who seems to think my vocabulary rather too advanced for the average reader.”

Facing the Hunchback of Notre Dameis a humorous and enjoyable story that would be a good book for reading aloud, and I can see it fitting well into a home schooling curriculum. There is even the odd interjection for the sake of the parents, and this humour, combined with the distinctive voice of the narrator (Bartholomew Inkster, janitor at Kingscross University) reminded me of Roald Dahl. There are a few too many exclamation marks for my taste, but I suppose it is the distinctive voice of the narrator and the age group the book is targeting.

Although it is published by Zondervan, Facing the Hunchback of Notre Dameis not an obviously 'Christian' novel, but it is a fun read, with a plot device that is well set up for a series (it is Book 1 of The Enchanted Attic series). Thanks to Zonderkidz and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

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