Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill - ADVISABLE

McNeill, Malcolm The Beginning Woods, 522 pages. Sky Pony Press, 2018. $18.

Language: PG (2 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG.


As a baby, Max Mulgan was abandoned in a bookshop and then left on the steps of an orphanage without any sign of where he had come from. Because of his scary sharp teeth and other peculiar features, he wasn’t adopted until the day he was about to be shipped away to another orphanage. Even though the Mulgans, his adoptive parents, are loving parents, Max is obsessed with finding his birth parents, what he calls his “forever parents.” He also becomes entangled in the search to discover what has been causing the “vanishings,” in which thousands of people disappear into thin air every day. A scientist named Boris and an odd old woman named Mrs. Jeffers, who turns out to be a wizard, believe that Max is at the heart of what started the vanishings and that he is the key to stopping them. When the Mulgans vanish, Max leaves on an adventure to uncover the mysteries surrounding his life. He enters into a parallel world called the Woods and discovers a place where the creatures he’s read about in fairy tales are real. With the help of friends and mentors along the way, Max learns some dark truths about his own life and solves the vanishings in the process.

This book got off to a bit of a slow start and there were a few spots in which I felt like I had missed a subtle clue earlier in the reading, which made me feel confused at times. It felt like the explanations came just a little later than I’m used to as a reader. In spite of those small problems, I found myself captivated by the mystery and the characters. The book had a Grimm’s fairy-tale feel to it with its magic and sinister villains. The world-building in the book was creative and consistent. Max was sometimes difficult to relate to, but he realistically struggled with some of his choices. He was so completely focused on finding his “forever parents” that he sometimes forgot the bigger picture of his role in saving the world from the vanishings. Likewise, he was courageous sometimes and then swayed by peer pressure and discouragement at others. He wasn’t a perfect hero, but his choices realistically reflected his age and maturity. He needed a lot of help and made mistakes along the way, but he grows and learns in a redeeming way. With its adventure, first-crush romance, and questions about belonging and the consequences of technological advances, there is something for everyone in this book.

Reviewer: MQ.

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