Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fiction | Everything's Strange in Crystal Springs, Maine

Since I'm going to be a middle school librarian (woooot!), one of my immediate reading projects is to seriously increase my intake of middle grade material! And because this blog should imitate life, I plan on posting a lot more juvenile material on here with a more Reader's Advisory slant. I've read in library school coursework that you "shouldn't do RA based on personal reading experiences," but I think that's rubbish! It's the familiarity and excitement that gets readers reading, right? I figure, the more I know, the better I can do my job. (Sidenote: Reading recommendations welcome!)

Having said all that, Megan Frazer Blakemore's The Water Castle has actually been on my to-read list long before this reading mission, because I always love a good children's book!

In this story, the Appledore-Smith clan has just moved to an old family estate in a small Maine town with the hope of accelerating their father's recovery from a stroke. We have Price, the eldest; Brynn, the youngest; and Ephraim, our main character on this journey. Ephraim quickly realizes that something is unusual about Crystal Springs, Maine. Everyone is too good, too smart, too healthy. The town's history is embellished by urban legend—the rumored site of the Fountain of Youth. Nothing has ever been proven, but Ephraim finds it all too odd for rational explanation.

Upon the discovery of a mysterious blue glow around their mysterious old house, Ephraim decides to open an investigation into the house and town's past—from its days as a bottling factory of "magical healing waters" to a secret science lab to an unexplained, devastating fire—with the hopes of healing his father once and for all.

The Water Castle has got a lot packed into it. It has elements of fantasy, mystery, and history. It deals with new schools, new peers, serious health issues, sibling conflict, and an uncertain future. The story unfolds through Ephraim's eyes because he is, undoubtedly, the most relatable character; he's completely and entirely normal. He has the same struggles, insecurities, hopes, motivations, and aspirations as any other middle schooler; but his world in The Water Castle is one where the unbelievable isn't impossible.

Blakemore has created a deceptively complex story here with substantial subplots and side characters, though nothing too distracting—it's all part of the bigger picture. My only real complaint is that the story ended without many answers. Part of me can understand it, for imagination's sake, and part of me just thinks it's lazy writing. I also wonder if a younger audience will find it as slow-paced as I did, and that's something I'll just have to learn from experience. Because of all those loose ends, though, this would be great for a book club or discussion—and a great motivator for creative writing.

Overall, I'd classify this as a realistic story but with fantastical elements; it's a world where the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred, which is an exciting place for the minds and imaginations of young readers.

**Similar: Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

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