I’ll confess something to you. I’m a children’s librarian who reads a lot of children’s books in a given year. I don’t get a chance to review them all, which is too bad. So my To Be Reviewed shelf in my office gets fuller and fuller as the seasons go by. Sometimes I’ll read a book for kids in one month and then immediately review it. Other times I’ll read a book, put it on the shelf, and pick it up a few months later, a little fuzzy on some of the finer details. Rarest of all is the book I read, place on the shelf for TEN MONTHS, and still remember like it was yesterday when I get ready to review it. The Farwalker’s Quest by novelist Joni Sensel was one of those books that I sort of assumed I’d never get around to reviewing but over the months I found that I couldn’t forget it. I kept thinking about it, and darned if I didn’t remember it long after it was over. That, to me, is what middle grade chapter book fantasy fans are really looking for. They may devour book after book like lightning, but why do they do it? They do it because they’re searching for the story that touches them, stays with them, and remains with them for years and years. The Farwalker’s Quest is one of those books. It reuses a lot of old tropes we’ve seen many times before, but it also will stick with you long after the memory of other fantasies has faded from your mind.
Who hasn’t wanted to find a secret message meant just for them? It sounds exciting, like the start of an adventure. But when Ariel pulls an ancient artifact called a telling dart from the bark of a tree, she has no idea where this simple action might lead. Before she knows it two scary looking men have come to town looking for the dart. Suddenly Ariel is kidnapped, rescued, and now she and her friend Zeke must find out where the dart has come from, and what it might all mean. Along the way they’ll make enemies, unexpected friends, and Ariel will discover her true calling.
I’ve called this book a fantasy already in my opening to this review but is it? I’m not sure. Certainly there are some fantastical elements at work here. I think that it could also be called post-apocalyptic fiction, in the style of The Giver, though. Lines that discuss sending, "fire through a string as people were said to have done in the old days," is one such tip-off. It’s not hard and fast, though. Unlike books like Raiders’ Ransom, this could either be the Earth’s future, or it could be another world entirely. You could argue it either way. Really, this book falls into an already big category of children’s books about kids in a society where they get their jobs at 12 and then discover that society is not as neat and ordered as they’d thought it was. The City of Ember, Below the Root, The Wind Singer, the aforementioned The Giver, and now Farwalker’s Quest.
The language is a lot of fun too. Descriptive without ever overdoing it (which is a frequent temptation in epic quests like this one). There are just little jabs of color here and there. Lines like, "The water drained from the gulch like blood from a scratch, the slopes above too loose with shale for easy walking." Sentences like that one really work for me because they briefly take you out of the narrative, then plunge you right back in again.
So I like the writing in general very much. Less so the all too frequent foreshadowing. More than one or two chapters end with sentences along the lines of, "Even his courage would have failed if he’d known where the Farwalker’s path would take them. By then, though, Ariel had taken the lead." It’s not so much that there is foreshadowing as it that it’s entirely unnecessary. Sensel is a enjoyable writer with a voice distinctive enough not to need rely on these little glimpses into the future. Kids are going to enjoy her writing. They won’t need an extra pull to keep them going, or to ramp up the tension. My two cents.
It’s definitely middle grade and not solely teen fare, though a fantasy/sci-fi loving teenager could probably get something out of it. Really the only moment that suggests at an older audience is when Scarl removes his shirt and Ariel realizes, "how little resistance she could offer if he’d decided that her clothes would be coming off next." They don’t, as it happens. So we’re still in the all clear. Kids looking for a book that stretches the imagination without relying on the usual dragon/magic/vampire motifs will find a lot to love here. Sensel has done a stand-up job of creating a new world from scratch. Some of it will be familiar. Some, not so much. Whatever the case, prepare to read something memorable.
On shelves now.
Source: Reviewed from hardcover copy sent by author.
First Line: “Zeke’s tree wouldn’t speak to him.”
Notes on the Cover: The jacket art is by one Antonio Javier Caparo (he discusses it here), designed by Daniel Roode. I was pleased to see that on a twentieth or twenty-first viewing I noticed the little Farwalker symbol etched into the rock just behind Ariel’s hiking form. Also, isn’t it nice to see a girl with pants for once in a heroice pose? Girls on fantasy covers, even when they are kickass heroines, tend to just stand there, either holding something or jutting their chins. They so rarely DO anything (this is true of realistic fiction as well). Girls on covers tend to be stationary. You’ll rarely see them running (though there are notable exceptions, once in a while). So I like this a lot. It’s a hero’s pose. Well played Caparo and Roode. I’m also very pleased to see that the paperback cover is merely a blown-up section of Ariel striving forward.
Other Blog Reviews:
- Charlotte’s Library
- Eva’s Book Addiction
- Fantasy Book Critic
- Becky’s Book Reviews
- Book Nut
- Ready When You Are, C.B.
- Joelle Anthony
- Deep Thoughts
- My Peace of the Puzzle
- Book of the Day
- Book Obsession
- Through the Wardrobe
- Listen to an interview with Book Bites for Kids by downloading this MP3 file (7 MB).
- Joni’s Farwalking blog, gives a sense of the inspiration behind the book, as does this essay on wordstock festival.
- She also has some amusing thoughts at The Spectacle.
- Read the first chapter here.
- Listen to Joni discuss the painful process of cutting 20,000 words. She offers advice on how you can cut down your own novels. Other revision notes are mentioned at Cuppa Jolie.
- Read Karen Cushman’s thoughts on the book.
- Bake the Farwalker’s Flat Apple Pie, based on Joni’s own recipe.
- Here’s the paperback cover for the book:
- And here’s the cover of the sequel, The Timekeeper’s Moon, coming out March 2010: