the Cybils Awards is a surefire way to get all caught up on the books of the past year. I noticed Woundabout, by Lev Rosen (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, June 2015), when it came out, and thought it looked interesting, and so I was glad to see it get nominated, becoming, ipso facto, part of my reading list.
Woundabout is the story of two siblings who are orphaned when their dads (yes, two dads) are killed in a freak accident while training bomb-sniffing capybaras. Connor and Cordelia (with Kip, the one remaining capybara) must go live with their aunt Marigold in the strange little town of Woundabout, where there's no internet access, the river doesn't flow or matches catch fire, strangers can't move in, and deviation from the established routines is frowned upon most fiercely. It is a place of stasis, and the people who live there made that the choice to reject change, each for his or her own reason. The book's title hints at the mechanism that's keeping things in their place (wound as in clockwork), and if read with the other meaning of "wound," gives a nod to the various sadnesses that its people are trying to escape.
Connor and Cordelia are the first newcomers for ages, and their arrival sets change in motion. But when they discover the mysterious key that the mayor had guarded fiercely, but not well enough, they use it to unlock the secrets of the city, bringing change with a vengeance!
Woundabout is an intriguing place. Although the story moves somewhat slowly as the two kids explore it (they are hampered by the grown-ups insistence that they too develop a routine), things pick up in pace once they find the key, and meet the young thief, a boy from outside, who took it from the mayor. The answer to Woundabout's secret pushes the story into the realm of fairy tales--the four elements have left the town, and can only be brought back when the key is used. And indeed the whole story had the feel of a fable, more than an immediately exciting adventure. The Mayor is kind of an antagonist, but there's never much tension or sense of danger until almost the very end of the book, and I never felt that the mystery, with its unexpectededly fanciful solution, was all that edge of the seat grippingly mysterious.
So this is one I think has more appeal for younger middle grade kids than for the more sophisticated 11 or 12 year olds. I wouldn't leap to press it into the hands of a generic middle grade fantasy reader, but I think it would make a fine evening read-aloud for 8 to 9 year olds, especially those who appreciate character centered stories where the quests are more internal than is the case for more swords and sorcery type fantasy.
Note on diversity: as well as the two dads, there's a secondary character who uses a wheelchair. It's her brother who has stolen the mayor's key, hoping to leverage that into Woundabout residency for his family--it's a preternaturally healthy place and he's hoping for magical healing for his sister. But she's made the decision for herself, after many surgical attempts to "fix" her, that she doesn't want to live her life always hoping to be fixed and always failing. She doesn't think of her self as broken, and she wants to keep on running her high tech computerized greenhouses without self-pity. So no magical healing for her! I'm also thinking the way Cordelia in particular is portrayed in the illustrations (as in the picture below) suggests she's a kid of color, although I didn't notice any descriptions of her in the text. I'm going ahead and counting her.....(and possibly Connor too....).