English class is an important but often stilted and crazy kind of class, and it's safe to say everyone's had moments of loving the class and hating it, the latter about 95% of the time for 95% of students (Don't quote me on that). But in the 5% is 11-year-old Alex Baisley, a girl who sees all the stories like The Little Mermaid and The Boy Who Cried Wolf and Red Riding Hood as fascinating escapes. Like Ostin Liss from Michael Vey, she could teach the English class herself. Her twin brother on the other hand, Connor, is more than prepared to belch in order to spare twenty minutes of his time elsewhere. But Alex and Connor share one thing. They feel a burden has descended on their family since their dad died from a car accident. Since then, their mom has had to work extra hours to raise the two of them. Their twelfth birthday is coming up and she won't have time to attend even that. Then their grandmother from far away comes to visit them with a special book of hers called The Land of Stories. One that has pages that glow for some reason. One where when Alex puts her hand on a page, she dips it in, and she and Connor accidentally fall into the book, and are in the middle of a world intertwining...everyone, from Cinderella to Goldilocks to trolls and wolves and feuds between kingdoms...and the only way they see they could ever return home is to conjure, or collect, the required materials for a theoretical spell disowned by the rest of the land; a land that's either a dream come true or a hardcover of death.
I am a huge Chris Colfer fan. No, I didn't grow up watching Glee, though I think his acting is an ace of diamonds. What I mean is I read his teenage-targeted and newer-than-the-one-I'm-reviewing novels, Struck by Lightning and Stranger than Fanfiction, and they were both masterpieces; they were different, angry, hysterical, utilized their contemporary storylines in all the best ways, honest, relateable, engaging, sexy without being obnoxious, and with end results that cracked my heart in half and made me cry. And when the book opens up with a Snow White who seemed too forgiving against "The Evil Queen", an overly simple title, and then emphasizing the love of stories a bit cheesily for my taste, I was worried I was going to have to say Colfer is better when he writes stories about drunk superstars and swearing writers club presidents than mermaids and talking frogs. But I'm happy to say the book succeeds, leaving us with the feeling writing this book had to have been a blast.
Considering how fast and occasionally carefree it sometimes is, I'm even still a little surprised I'm giving this book such a high grade. Alex and Connor are put through so much in this Land of Stories. They are just about cooked alive, eaten alive, put in a prison with some people who grew up in hard labor and never tasted a berry, end up having to hang on for dear life more than once with several feet below them, but if it doesn't at least hold your attention, there's no talking to you. Reading about Alex climbing Rapunzel's tower on her own, with no handholds or anything, is ridiculous but the thought of it stuck with me for sure. And I was worried the adventure would end up dragging yet rushing at the same time when the items they have to collect are just so...so...rare and delicate. But they are collected efficiently quickly, preventing it from seeming like the book will go on for too long, which is a blessing for a 450-paged book advertised for sixth graders. And it's when the climax approaches that the book steps up its game, inviting us back to some prior scenes that left a shroud of unknown info about the ancient story characters and giving us a satisfying scope of what The Land of Stories actually is. There are also some tragic story moments that reflect Colfer's ability to, like in his teen novels, show a dark side you never see coming, like a bucket of blood dumped onto a white carpet, and I got enough of an appreciation of the book that its earlier cheesiness I forgave.
There's five more books in the series. I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next and how much time has passed since the first adventure.