The fantasy young adult/tween market is growing, as are the number of books with female main characters. I was very happy to see that The Unwritten Girl and Fathom Five have a female main character, and her best friend is a boy, a combination with cross-gender appeal. James Bow has managed to combine real life as a tween/young adult with fantasy in a way that brings both worlds to life. The newly released Fathom Five and its precursor The Unwritten Girl mix life in a small Canadian town with travel through alternate worlds. Fathom Five can stand on its own, but The Unwritten Girl is a novel that deserves some attention, too.
James Bow’s first book, The Unwritten Girl, introduces us to 12 year old Rosemary, who has lived her whole life in Clarksbury, but yet never felt like she fit in. 12 year old Peter is the “new kid” in the small town, and has the added oddity of being an orphan who lives with his uncle. Rosemary and Peter are drawn together at first because of their shared sense of not belonging. However, when Rosemary’s brother Theo comes back from college unresponsive to anything other than a specific book, they join together to return him to himself.
Theo has had mental illness issues in the past, but his doctors can’t figure out what is happening now. It isn’t until Rosemary looks at the book he’s holding that she figures out what she must do. Rosemary and Peter are pulled into a world of the written word, where A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘s Puck guides them through challenges and The Land of Fiction, which is surrounded by the Sea of Ink. The idea of traveling through the world of books reminds me a bit of The Phantom Tollbooth, but James Bow takes us on a very different journey. Peter and Rosemary encounter several surprising situations, have their pre-conceptions challenged, and are tested in ways that help them build character traits that will help them back at home as well. The story and the characters kept me turning pages, anxious to see what happened next!
Fathom Five is the second in the The Unwritten Books, but it stands alone while inviting you to read its predecessor. Peter and Rosemary are now 15, and life is less simple than it was 3 years before. James does a fabulous job of showing the change between age 12 and age 15, and what high school is really like in a small town. The secondary characters have mellowed from the middle school grades, and Peter and Rosemary’s academic strengths are valued rather than bullied. Peter becomes very distracted and unable to concentrate all of a sudden, which leads to a lot of
gossip conversation among the teachers.
Peter’s babysitter, Fiona, has found him again, 6 years after his parents’ death. She claims he’s a changeling, a siren child left with his parents when they had a stillbirth. These claims are contributing to his distraction, especially because he feels he has no one in whom he can confide – his uncle and sole family member is away on business. Peter is also distracted by his change in feelings about Rosemary from platonic to romantic, and his worries over her response when he kisses her.
Rosemary, meanwhile, reads just like a 15 year old girl should – she’s worried about Peter’s lack of concentration, and she’s over-thinking everything. She is conflicted about moving from friends to boyfriend/girlfriend, and part of her seems to wish for the simpler days a few years before. I’ve rarely seen a man write the character of a teenage girl this well – James has really brought Rosemary to life along with Peter!
Fiona is trying to convince Peter that it’s time to come home to his siren family, and leave the world of Clarksbury behind. Rosemary is trying to convince Peter that Fiona is wrong, but will Peter listen to her or to Fiona? Is there a secret about why Fiona’s words have so much of an effect on Peter, or is it simply because he is wishing for a family like Rosemary’s? Most importantly, is the world of the sirens really where Peter belongs? If not, can Rosemary help him discover the truth?
The worlds in The Unwritten Books are thoughtfully put together. Rosemary and Peter are multi-faceted, and while the secondary characters aren’t seen often, they aren’t stereotypes, either. James has created unique worlds for Rosemary and Peter to visit in each novel, but they learn important things about themselves each time, and those character traits will serve them well back at home. While I really enjoy the incredible depth and detail of the fantasy world, I also appreciate the work James has done to make life in Clarksbury feel real as well. There aren’t many writers who can move characters between the real world and the fantastic with such grace.
I highly recommend James Bow’s The Unwritten Books. Both The Unwritten Girl and Fathom Five are wonderful Young Adult fantasy novels, and would be attractive to both boys and girls. The fantasy inside James Bow’s novels aren’t the type of fantasy that has received a lot of movie attention of late, so teens and tweens who say “I don’t like fantasy” should like these! If you’re an adult, don’t pass these up because they’re labeled Young Adult. You can always buy and read them, then donate them to the Young Adult section of the library!
These books were received from the author for review.