Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Writer's Book Review: PJ Hoover's THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD



When I first started reading THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD, I wasn't sure what to expect. Benjamin's world is so unique--from telegens to nogicals, the magic and mystery here is unlike any other book I've read.

Elsewhere on the web: I'm sure you all know this already, but PJ runs one of the best blogs on the block and has a website as well. There's a Facebook fan page to the Forbidden Worlds series as well [but I can't seem to get the link to load correctly]. PJ did an interview with Tabitha at Writer Musings here as well.

Five Sentence Summary: [As this is a sequel, the summary might be a spoiler for those who haven't read the first book. Highlight to read.] Benjamin and pals are at it again--now that he knows he needs to locate his long lost fellow triplets, he and his friends are working together to 1) track them down and 2) get them together. When they find one of the triplets in an unusual, er, location, extracting him to unite him with Benjamin proves rather difficult...and some of the friends are going to have to pay a high price to continue their journey.

So what can we, as writers, learn from this book?

1. Consequences for Actions: One of my pet peeves in writing is when there are no serious consequences to a character's actions. It is also one of the most common traits of children's literature. In kid lit, it seems acceptable to the point of being expected that, in the end, the kids win and there's nothing bad happening. Which, of course, is completely unrealistic and so sugar-sweet that even kids can't swallow it. No, the mark of good kid lit is there there are consequences--even when you do the right thing. Consider the Harry Potter series. Part of what made that final battle so amazing was knowing the sacrifices--on Harry's part and on his friends'--that made the victory bittersweet.

Which is what I loved about the ending of THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD. In it, one of the characters must make a serious decision that will have serious consequences. And there's no magic wand to change what happens--it happens, and the characters have to live with how that's changed them, for better or worse. (Highlight for more) Iva must make the decision to give up a year of her life and work with Apollo as a prophet--and Andy makes the decision to stick with Iva. There's no slick way they escape paying their dues--both of them lose that year, and they can't go back and change it. By having these consequences as real repercussions of their decisions, the story is all the more realistic--and that's why I liked it so much.

2.  Complex plot twists that are wrapped up logically: In case you haven't heard, there's two very exciting words being bandied about with this book: time travel. TIME TRAVEL! I adore good time travel stories--that's why, after all HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN was so brilliant in my book. I love the plot twists time travel allows, and PJ fully uses them here. As soon as the kids start zooming back and forth in time, make sure you pay attention to the details and the cleverly layered clues. Trust me--they're important. The key here is not just that PJ uses time travel in the story, it's that she, the writer, is layering clues in the past and present so that when you add them all up, you get a clear picture of the whole story. Time travel is one of the best ways to write using a "gun on the mantle" literary device--put the clue somewhere in the past and have the hero use it in the future, or give a warning in the past and realize it by the climax--that's the key to writing good time travel.


3. Random Fun: Although my high schoolers are loving--LOVING--PJ's series, the target audience for the book is MG. --segue-- I recently started watching iCarly on Nickelodeon. It is hi-larious. And it includes a lot of random humor--during the kids' webshow, they have Random Dancing, the character Sam randomly eats and/or punches people, coincidences abound. Sometimes it's a bit too much for me. But...kids love it. --segue-- Likewise, in THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD, there's a few bits of randomness--the guy with a crush on Iva, the girl who shows up to help the heroes, the kid who inconveniently provides Benjamin with things he needs, the Nogicals (who are, almost by definition, random...and PS, yes I did say NogicalS--there's two now!)--but that is exactly the sort of random happen-chance that kids love. LOVE.

Quibbles: At times, some of the randomness seemed almost like deus ex machina to me, but, as I said, it will definitely appeal to kids and (highlight) don't forget that this *is* a time travel story, so some of the random convenience of objects or tools was actually manufactured by the time travel and a part of the story, although you might not realize that until the end.

The Bottom Line: This one is better than the first. If you liked THE EMERALD TABLET, you'll love THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD. Also: Apollo.

Don't forget! Comment here for extra entries into the give-away for both of PJ's books...and if you have a question about the books, PJ, or writing in general, go to yesterday's post to ask--and get even more entries!
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