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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Goblin Secrets, written by William Alexander. Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster. 2012. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"This was strange to him. He always knew exactly how the rest of Graba's household felt, because none of them knew how to hide it. Graba herself never bothered to conceal her moods and wishes - her face was as easily readable as words spelled out in burning oil in the middle of the street. Rownie was used to that. The goblin, however, wore her smile in a language that Rownie didn't know and couldn't read."

When I first read about Goblin Secrets it had been made a finalist for the National Book Awards. Thanks to April at Simon & Schuster Canada I was able to read a copy before it was announced the winner in the Young People's Literature category. So, now I am going to tell you about it from my perspective.

It is Rownie's story about the city where he lives, the witch who controls him, the goblins who shelter him, and the search for his beloved brother. I was taken with William Alexander's setting. The city of Zombay is divided north and south by a turbulent, angry river that seems almost human. The two sides of the city are distinctly different. The Northside has a Mayor and his powerful, robotic guards who protect the rich and influential. The Southside is the 'wrong side of the tracks (well, river). It is controlled by Graba, a Baby Yaga type witch with geared legs, a snarky demeanor and incredible power. She houses orphans and uses them to do her bidding and run her errands. Rownie and his older brother Rowan were taken in by Graba when their parents were lost to the river.

Now, Rowan has disappeared, following his part in an illegal play, and the arrival of the Mayor's guards to arrest everyone involved. Rowan purportedly escaped, and has not been seen since that raid. After watching a goblin performance and taking a small role, Rownie decides to run away from Graba and join the theatre troupe.  He hopes they will have a way to find Rowan, or at least some news of him. He learns that Rowan was to play a part in a ritual that would keep the river from flooding Zombay. Without him, the city is on a collision course of destruction. Can Rownie take his place?

There is magic, a curse, manic pigeons, goblin wisdom, a race against time, an alarming discovery about what has happened to Rowan; all will draw the reader from page to page in a quest to see Rownie find his place in this world. It is a world with an imaginative appeal for middle graders who like fantasy. I loved the characters...each distinct and memorable. I found myself picturing the city, the river, Graba's constantly moving house, the goblins, the Grubs and the tower filled with masks.  It is memorable for all of those things and for William Alexander's ability to write a great story.

"Rownie woke up. He felt the cushioned chair underneath him, expecting to find the straw floor of Graba's shack. He didn't, and he didn't know why - not until he gathered up all the pieces of yesterday and put them back together in his head.Then he remembered how alone he was."

I haven't read what the judges had to say about this book. I am off to do that now!

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