Reading kids' books rarely makes me feel old. I *get* them. I've always wanted to go to Hogwarts. I can't wait for the final book in the Inkheart series. I pre-ordered Percy Jackson. But after reading glowing review after glowing review of Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo, I have to say...I just don't get it. Don't get me wrong--it's not completely unlikeable (more on that later). But one of the characters has the special gift of turning things to ice, which I thought appropriate, as this book moves at a glacial pace. In case you're like me and would expect to get to Foo sometime during this book, let me tell you right now: You're not going to get there in the first 340+ pages, except in glimpses of the super-annoying and one-dimensional bad guy. We spent the ENTIRE book trying to get to Foo, in the most methodical way possible. Skye (is it just me, or does Obert Skye sound like one of those names you create using your first pet's name and the street you grew up on or something?) has obviously taken a lot of time developing Foo (to a Tolkien-like level of detail, complete with an unnecessary map at the end and a glossary of the types of beings found in Foo), but we never get to SEE it. Presumably, the next book takes place in Foo, but I'm not sure I'm going to get there.
The writing is not great, but with some really funny bits ("I'm sorry, I think even if you're going to be sinister you can take five minutes a day to floss and brush"--hahaha!), but there is far too much overwritten prose like "The hot windy sky quickly became a thick sticky trap" and "Weaved together like a rug that humanity was about to unknowingly wipe its feet on." Is there a quota on adverbs and adjectives that Skye is trying to meet? Speaking of adverbs, rarely does a character just "say" anything. They "shiver" or "smile" or "sigh" their words, and if they do "say" anything, it's modified by an adverb. In fact, within six sentences, Geth says two different things "strongly." But enough grammar/style nitpicking; after all, JK Rowling herself is guilty of over-modifying dialogue tags, and I try to ignore it with the Harry Potter books. Overall, I felt this book read more like the first chapter or two of a more exciting book, and since it is the first in the series, maybe subsequent books move along a bit better. This one went back and forth between the several points-of-view so that we learn all past and present events in excruciating detail, and all the back stories of all the characters. Seriously, I felt a little like I would be quizzed on Foo trivia at the end. It lacked the joy of fantasy reading that I found in Fablehaven, and I was really slogging through for the first 80 or so pages until Leven and Winter finally meet and the Fellowship sets out to destroy the ring...oops, I mean portal. Skye seems to feel that if you can tell it, why bother showing it? This is a constant source of reader-frustration in the book. The bad guy is bad, I'm told over and over and over and over, primarily through his long, megalomaniacal speeches (in which he italicizes all references to himself, which drove me nuts).
An important note: If you're plowing through this book thinking that Leven's poor eyesight (I didn't count the number of references, but I believe it exceeded a dozen) is somehow important to the plot, I can save you some annoyance at the end: it has no impact on anything. At all.
Harry Potter checklist:
Parents dead? Check!
Raised by mean aunt? Check!
Distinguishing mark? Check!
Unusual gift? Check!
Told about otherworldly nature by strange creature? Check!
I almost did a Lord of the Rings checklist, too, and this Harry Potter one could be much longer, but that would be really self-indulgent of me. Okay, moving to the positive. The idea of Foo, a world that exists so we on earth can dream, is really cool and clever. Winter and Leven are funny together (when Leven isn't whining about how he isn't good enough, smart enough, etc.), and the glimpses of Foo we get through Clover's candy collection are pretty funny. I guess I would recommend this to very patient fantasy readers who need a Harry Potter fix and are willing to make it through this book in the hopes that the sequels are better.