Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review - The Conjuring Glass (Phoenix Girls Book 1)

I was intrigued by The Conjuring Glass as a potential good “middle reader” book for my 10 year old daughter. It sounded like something she might enjoy. It focuses on a 13 year old girl, an orphan named Penny, who is moved to a new little town and discovers a secret magic that she is able to use. At the same time, evidence of some scary mystery starts to unravel around her and Penny needs to muster her courage and what little magic skills she’s learned to try and stop whatever is happening. Even though there is the risk that this could be a Harry Potter clone, it fortunately makes some conscious choices to differentiate itself while still potentially being appealing to Harry Potter readers.

The first thing I noticed as I read this book is that the writing is very simplistic and definitely geared towards younger readers. I’ve seen this categorized as “Young Adult” but the prose is certainly accessible to Middle Graders and the overall tone and depth of the story is more likely to be appreciated by those pre- and early-teens than older readers. Some of the content may be what pushes for the characterization as a “Young Adult” novel. While there was nothing that would be deemed as “mature themes”, there are some ‘intense’ scenes later in the book that could be a little frightening for younger readers. Thus I suspect this is the reason that some groups choose to “shelve” the book as a “Young Adult” novel, knowing that “Middle Grader” could potentially get readers as young as 7 or 8.

Assuming the role of a younger reader, I found myself intrigued by the story and by the character of Penny. She’s a bit of an outsider, not necessarily by choice but willing to adapt to that role. When she does finally make a friend in town, the hesitance and apprehension felt realistic and appropriate. As the girls discover the magic around them it is fun to see their excitement grow and I enjoyed the fun and playful way the girls just enjoyed being themselves and exploring the world around them.

Once the conflict in the story began, things took a turn for the strange. The author did a good job of keeping the antagonist and the real nature of the mystery at arms length for a while. I don’t want to spoil the fun by revealing the secrets except to say that the plot is intriguing and twists together a number of fun tension and questions. There were elements that felt a little trite and predictable but to younger/inexperienced readers they may not even notice or care and to me I was able to move on easily enough.

As I mentioned above, there were some intense scenes in the climax and near the conclusion of the book. These felt a little unbalanced and out of place given the younger tone of the rest of the book and as such they left me a little unsure of what to make of it. As an older reader I appreciated the added tension and excitement. Thinking of this as a book for my 10-year old, I was momentarily a little apprehensive. Thinking back on the scenes in terms of the overall book, I think it was more the contrast in the “tame vs intense” that made the “intense” scenes seem over the top. Taken individually I don’t feel like the scenes were inappropriate or anything unexpected for a Middle Grader novel (except perhaps, as I mentioned, for the young 7-8 yr old Grade Schooler who’s reading above his/her level).

This book is also set up as book 1 in a series. At this time I don’t know how many books are going to be in the series. It is very apparent at the end of Book 1 that we are definitely not done with the story. The overarching plot is not yet clear at all. The girls have only barely begun to explore the magic available to them. There are still too many questions unanswered and a number of questions not yet posed by the book at all. At this point I see there is a book “1.5” and a book 2 out. The book is fairly short overall and the easy prose makes it a quick read. My only concern is that the pacing be right. I have a difficult time with series books where each novel has a few significant scenes to keep the reader hooked but when looked at as a whole the overall plot moves along very slowly. Without having a view at the whole picture and without having read the next books, it’s difficult to tell what the trend will be but due to the smallish nature of the full plot trajectory in Book 1, I’m a little nervous about the rest…but that’s largely just in terms of my personal taste.

Overall I found this to be an entertaining read. I’ve recommended it to my 10 year-old daughter and have given her a brief synopsis but so far she hasn’t been interested in picking it up. Even though I enjoyed the book, it wasn’t an “absolutely must read” so I’m not pushing it on her at this point but I am interested to know if she likes it or not. We shall see. As for me, I’m probably not going to move on to the rest of the series unless my daughter does decide she likes it in which case I’ll just read along with her and enjoy the lightweight fun of this Middle Grader novel.

3 out of 5 stars

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1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

huh my son enjoyed harry potter...and he is a middler this year...will see what he thinks....