The Golden Door, by Emily Rodda (Scholastic Press, October 1, 2012 in the US). If you are looking for a book that will introduce your young reader (8 or so years old) to the delightful tropes of the Quest Fantasy, you can read The Hobbit out loud, which is a lovely thing to do. However, if you want said child to read independently (which so many of us do), you could do much worse than offer him or her The Golden Door. Which is to say, I think it achieves what it set out do -- it tells an entertaining story in a very appealing way.
Weld is a world within a wall. Not a big world...actually more like a densely packed settlement. But the space protected by the wall and its magic is the only world Rye and his brothers have ever known. It's clear, though, that there is something outside the wall, a place where the fearsome Skimmers fly from each night, preying on the unlucky and the unwary (which is to say, eating them).
And there are those inside Weld who are getting tired of their Warden's impotence in the face of this danger:
And this graffiti-scrawled sign made me laugh out loud (I love this sign) and settle down to enjoy the story.
In a nutshell, it involves Rye's two older brothers volunteering to go hunt skimmers outside the wall, and never coming back; Rye (in good third brother style) going off to look for them. The way out of Weld gives the traveller a choice of three doors--gold, silver, and wood--and Rye, trying to think which his oldest brother would choose, heads off through the golden door. (It's nice that Rye's motivation is to find his brothers, whom he loves, not the usual honor and glory heroicness).
He doesn't go alone--Sonia, a girl whose been hanging around the Warden's keep for ages, trying to get through herself, convinces him to let her come with him. And they're off, confronting a strange world that holds its own strange terrors...
It is a pretty much note-perfect fantasy adventure for the eight or nine year old. The critically reading adult might find plot points they don't care for, and have passing disbelief suspension issues (did I myself, in my adultish way, embrace it and love it to pieces? Not so much, though I read it very happily), but I think its target audience won't see any problems with it. For them, the story of the third brother and the magic that awaits him in woods beyond the world is still fresh and new, and the splashes of humor and everyday details that Rodda throws into her mix makes this particular tale and its two main characters veryappealing. For what it's worth, there are also scary bits, and anxious bits, and gross bits.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.