The Dyerville Tales (Walden Pond Press, middle grade, April 2014) avidly, with interest and enjoyment (though not true love), and usually when this happens it's easy for me to prattle on about the book's pleasing qualities. But I find myself somewhat stuck as I try to write about this one, because I'm not entirely sure I can define why I enjoyed reading it, nor am I entirely sure I could successfully pick the young readers who would love it (though I'm sure they exist).
Vince Elgin has lived in an orphanage ever since the terrible fire that destroyed his home. He knows it killed his mother, but nothing of his father was ever found....leaving Vince with horrible, desperately comforting, faith that his father will someday come back for him. He tells the story of the fire over and over again to the other orphans, with its ending he has to keep believing--the arrival of the fiery dragon, and his father's disappearance in pursuit of it. When word arrives at the orphanage that Vince's paternal grandfather has died, Vince knows he must go to Dyerville for the funeral--surely his father will be there. And so he absconds from the orphanage, with little in the way of a plan, but with lots of hope.
He has something else as well. The friend of Vince's grandfather who sent the death notice sent something else as well--a book in which he'd recorded all the grandfather's stories. And as Vince makes his way through the cold winter to Dyerville, meeting friends and foes along the way, he reads these stories to himself and to others. The fantastical journey described therein can't possibly be true, what with the evil witch, the blinded giant, the enchanted beasts, and the magical book. But Vince has been practicing his belief in the impossible as hard as ever he can, and so he takes from his grandfather's story an answer, of a magical sort, that will finally give him peace.
The Dyerville Tales is two stories--the mundane world of Vince's journey, and the fantasy journey of his grandfather. Both are somewhat episodic--Vince's journey in the real world less so--which I was perfectly comfortable with during the reading. But I think that my reservation about the book comes from a sense that the thematic links aren't quite strong enough to ever make the two strands of stories, and even the stories within those strands, work together to make a coherent whole.
And I was left with doubt about Vince's grandfather, as opposed to finding him and his life convincing emotionally--he must have been a real person, because there Vince is, but his life as told in the fantastically stories can't have been all there was to him, and we don't quite get to see any of that "real" person in our "real" world.
I think, having now writing this, that the young reader I'd give this to would have to be one who loved fairy tales, who isn't the sort to come back to a parent after reading and say "but...but...." A trusting sort of child, who doesn't have to have things make Sense. Which, at this point in my life, isn't exactly me.
Here's another review, with fewer reservations, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher