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April 4, 2011 / Chersti Nieveen

book review: The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

Stephens, John. The Emerald Atlas. Knopf Books for Young Readers; April 5, 2011 (tomorrow!)

Similar books: Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull; Harry Potter books; Rick Roirdan books.

The white-haired man drove with both hands tight on the wheel. Luckily, it was late, and with the snow and it being Christmas Eve, there was no traffic to slow them down.  But as fast as the man drove, the dark figures drew closer. They ran with an eerie, silent grace; every stride covered ten yards, the black wings of their overcoats billowing out behind them. Rounding a corner, the car bounced off a parked van, and two of the figures leapt into the air, grabbing on to the town houses that lined the street. The man glanced in the mirror and saw his pursuers scrambling along the faces of the houses like gargoyles that had broken free.

Kate, Michael, and Emma have been in one orphanage after another for the last ten years, passed along like lost baggage. Yet these unwanted children are more remarkable than they could possibly imagine. Ripped from their parents as babies, they are being protected from a horrible evil of devastating power, an evil they know nothing about.

Until now.

Before long, Kate, Michael, and Emma are on a journey to dangerous and secret corners of the world…a journey of allies and enemies, of magic and mayhem.  And—if an ancient prophesy is correct—what they do can change history, and it is up to them to set things right.

The Review
The Emerald Atlas is SUCH a great book.  I knew I was hooked when I didn’t want to put it down to go to the bathroom – and I was only on page three!

I loved the characterization in this book.  Each of the three main characters, Kate, Michael, and Emma, are clearly individuals, and stay true to their own set of traits throughout the book. They are real people with real feelings and experience heartbreak and happiness and satisfaction just as we all do; they just happen to have these experiences in a totally fantastic setting. And the characters they meet along the way are so varied and scary and fun! A little over halfway through the book there is *something* that happens that I have NO idea how they’ll record on a book-on-CD – but however they do it, it will be hilarious!

The descriptions in this book are absolutely brilliant. Taken from the excerpt, my favorite phrase is “the black wings of their overcoats” – so nice and creepy! A reader can really imagine how the characters look and move and talk. The settings are equally well-described, from the office in the north tower of the Edgar Allan Poe Home for Hopeless and Incorrigible Orphans (you KNOW that’s not going to be a nice place) to the river that runs down the mountain like a vein to the room with the curved ceiling and walls that shift.

I think what Mr. Stephens has done that is unique in this book is to take us to all these places so effortlessly. The straightforward storytelling allows the reader to imagine everything he wants to, while putting into place the firm descriptions and characterizations that provide the framework. Each reader can take away the same story, yet still have a personal spin experience with it. While the wording is rich and fluid, children (and adults) of all ages will find it extremely accessible. I absolutely recommend it to everyone, and plan on reading it aloud to my two boys, ages 6 and 8.

Reader Age: Ages 9+

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Guest Post by: Natalie

Nat-a-lie \ nat-ə–lē’\ – noun

1. Wife extraordinaire and happy Mama that loves do crafty projects.
2. One who likes to read as many books as possible– all while trying to find time to clean the house.
3. One who runs around like crazy.

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6 Comments

  1. Writer J / Apr 4 2011 10:49 am

    I didn’t realize this was coming out so soon.

  2. Karen Krueger / Apr 4 2011 11:01 am

    Fun. 🙂 I have to say that with a lot of middle grade books I’ve read that have multiple characters like this one that I kind of feel like characterization is lacking. So the fact that you mentioned that totally makes me want to read it. 🙂

    Oh, and that is probably the cutest picture ever. (The one of you, Natalie. 🙂 )

  3. Casey Reads / Apr 4 2011 11:01 am

    Wow, that sounds really good. I haven’t heard of it before, so I’ll have to go check it out. I’ve had fun reading a lot of middle grade books recently like Beyonders by Brandon Mull. Good story!!!

  4. Natalie / Apr 4 2011 3:14 pm

    Karen, thanks so much for the compliment! This is actually one of the only pictures I have of myself — I’m usually behind the lens — and it’s just before a how-to-host-a-murder!

    I have had a really hard time with middle grade books the last year or so — I’ve started so many and just put them down because I wasn’t engaged enough to finish. This one really was so much more my reading style! I thought it was really good for a huge variety of ages.

  5. Theresa Milstein / Apr 5 2011 1:21 pm

    This books has such a cool premise. I want to read it + I think my kids will like it too.

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