Book Review: UNWRITTEN by Tara Gilboy (Middle Grade Fantasy)

Today (October 16,2018) is the release date for Unwritten by Tara Gilboy!

I discovered this week's book recommendation on Net Galley, which provides free digital copies of fresh, new releases in exchange for honest reviews. Since I'm writing Middle Grade Fantasy right now, I''m reading a lot of Middle Grade fiction. Seeing as I own my very own middle grade child, this is rather convenient for all of us. 


From Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Gracie Freeman is living a normal life, but she is haunted by the fact that she is actually a character from a story, an unpublished fairy tale she’s never read. When she was a baby, her parents learned that she was supposed to die in the story, and with the help of a magic book, took her out of the story, and into the outside world, where she could be safe.

But Gracie longs to know what the story says about her. Despite her mother’s warnings, Gracie seeks out the story’s author, setting in motion a chain of events that draws herself, her mother, and other former storybook characters back into the forgotten tale. Inside the story, Gracie struggles to navigate the blurred boundary between who she really is and the surprising things the author wrote about her. As the story moves toward its deadly climax, Gracie realizes she’ll have to face a dark truth and figure out her own fairy tale ending.

This is a creative twist on the yearning to change our fate, escape our current condition that I loved in the movie, “A Knight’s Tale,” but it goes even further through the exploration of that space of not much liking your own behavior and wanting to change it, but feeling stuck or powerless. This is a feeling I remember quite vividly from my own childhood, and I don’t recall ever seeing it addressed so neatly.  

I picked up this book because I couldn't resist the premise—a girl and boy in the real world escaped with their families from a fairy tale, except the story still holds sway over them all. As a parent of a somewhat reluctant middle grade reader, I'm always looking for something fresh to tempt him with, and this story doesn't disappoint. I have to say that this was the most non-formulaic, creative book I've read in a very long time! Several times I uttered an audible "whoa!" as the plot took an unexpected vector. 

I loved and connected with the protagonist, Gracie, but I also had a soft spot for all the characters—this book does an outstanding job of examining the idea that none of us are all good or all evil. I think this is particularly importnat in the current divisive climate in the United States. 

A word on Gracie's friend Walter—one thing I loved was how Walter was used to allow the skeptical reader a way into the story. Walter is a boy of science, and not easily convinced that magic is possible. His skepticism allowed Tara Gilboy to address the natural resistance we have (or I have) to magic. 

Another thing I loved about this book was the exploration of character. 

“All characters are real to the people who love them.”

I love this premise both as a reader and as a writer. As a child (ok, sometimes as an adult, too) I’ve fallen in love with characters and dreamed that their universe was only on the other side of this dimension, and if I tried hard enough, I could join them

As a writer, I often feel as if my characters keep me company, and refuse to do what I want them to—much like real people. When their stories are over, I miss them. 

It’s really intriguing to read this as writer—the idea of writer as villain, but also the discussions of process—who we base characters on, why bad things happen to characters, etc. I've never read anything that really addressed this aspect of the writing/reading dynamic.

I give this book 5 stars overall. I think my 10 year old is the upper edge of the target audience--I'd peg it (as a mother, not a teacher) as good for the 8-10 year old range, though I entirely enjoyed it at age 45. 


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