You may have noticed my daughter's review of The Six, and now it's my turn!
Most of the time, my kids don't read the books I recommend. It's like Mom's endorsement on a piece of literature automatically makes it uncool. Or maybe they don't appreciate the "I TOLD YOU SO," they get after they finally read a book Mom suggests, and admit, "Yeah, that was pretty good." Either way, read-alongs, where I'm into the same books as my kids, are rare. But this summer, it's been all about K.B. Hoyle's The Gateway Chronicles with my daughters and me.
Amy, Kate, and I got hooked into the series with the first book, The Six. A 13 year old named Darcy Pennington is stuck going to a family camp against her will, only to be transported to the magical land of Alithelia with five new acquaintances as they were exploring the camp. As you can expect, the teenagers find out they are part of a prophecy to save the land from dark forces, and proceed to go on adventures to fulfill the prophecies.
This is a fairly standard formula for young adult fantasy literature. However, Hoyle's storytelling and plot are fresh and creative, and she presents a cast of intriguing characters, playing on familiar mythological types, such as centaurs and dragons, while presenting her own creations, such as "narks" who transform back and forth between two different personalities and appearances at sunset and sunrise (which Amy wants to be for Halloween, and I don't think she could have picked a trickier costume). Alitheia runs in a parallel universe to the setting of the family camp in Northern Michigan, allowing the two worlds to mingle.
The Six sets up the challenge for three boys and three girls as each are given a specific purpose and gifting required to fulfill the prophecy. The first book in a series of six, The Six explains the teenagers are expected to return to the camp each summer, and therefore to Alithelia, to continue to work towards conquering the evil force called Teseloch.
As I write this, I've already read the next two books - The Oracle and The White Thread. I'd like to spend those two reviews exploring some of the themes in the stories and how Hoyle masterfully handles some difficult topics and relates them to her young adult audience. For this review, I want to focus on the fact that these are really, really good stories. The plot is meticulously crafted, the characters are well-developed, and the storytelling is vivid and creative. All three of us put down the first book and wondered how soon we could get the second.
I note this because in the next few posts, I'm going to go into about why I want my kids to read this books based on the content and messages. We've all ran into books that have a "strong moral message" or something of the sort, but pushes the message at the expense of the craft of storytelling itself. Yucky or sticky parts are polished up in a corny or unbelievable way, characters end up feeling flat, plots are boring and formulaic, but golly, it was a nice, clean story, with such a wholesome message!
That's not what you're getting in The Gateway Chronicles. Hoyle isn't afraid to let the story get messy. She didn't write superheros who made the best decision at every turn. Some of her her characters make poor, selfish, and impulsive decisions, with tragic consequences. However, rather than dwell in the low points, she focuses on the characters' journey back up and their efforts to make the situation right. A storyteller can create characters who are on their best behavior, presenting the reader with a formula for "How To Do The Right Thing," but there's a lot of power in a more complicated story where the character fails, repents, and has to fight for redemption.