By Ekta R. Garg
October 22, 2014
Rated: Borrow it
A young boy learns about his destiny as someone who can communicate with ravens. When he tries to use his special power to find the father who disappeared under mysterious circumstances, the boy realizes he will need his friends to help him figure out the problem. But several adults might have what it takes to stop them. Author George Hagen offers readers his first children’s book in the mostly charming Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle.
Eleven-year-old Gabriel Finley loves riddles, although he knows other kids don’t. Gabriel grew up with a father who challenged him all the time with riddles, helping him figure out the harder ones and celebrating with him when he got them right. But three years ago Adam Finley disappeared. Although Adam’s sister and Gabriel’s aunt, Jasmine, has become Gabriel’s guardian and loves him, Gabriel misses his father and wants him to come back.
Across the street from Gabriel’s New York home, a mother raven nurtures her young chick and protects it from the valravens, the sector of birds that have accomplished their bid for immortality by acting in their own selfish interests. As the chick gets bigger and stronger, he comes to understand that he has a special place in the world of the ravens. More than that special place, the chick learns he may harbor the abilities to help his own species and the human race at the same time.
Events bring Gabriel and Paladin, the young raven, together. As they teach one another through their special communication, they begin to figure out that Adam Finley’s disappearance may serve as a link between ravens and humans. By building a slightly questionable alliance with another human/raven pair, Gabriel and Paladin (accompanied with gusto by Gabriel’s friends) embark on a quest to bring Adam home and save the world.
The book marks author George Hagen’s debut as a novelist for children; he has published books for adults with success. Several elements in Gabriel Finley… may also lead to a modicum of success in this target audience. His main characters come first on that list of elements.
Hagen has created in Gabriel a likeable protagonist, invoking a sense of sympathy for the child without tipping the balance in favor of melodrama. Gabriel’s friends, too, will make readers smile. Abby, the next-door neighbor, becomes a steadfast companion for Gabriel, encouraging him and never questioning the facts he shares about his connection to the ravens. Pamela, the violin prodigy, stands in as the reluctant participant. Somes, the boy who bullies Gabriel, turns into the ally who helps when it counts the most.
Pamela’s appearance in the book might feel slightly off track, however. Gabriel’s Aunt Jasmine offers Pamela and her mother, Trudy, shelter after a fire destroys their home. The link between Gabriel’s family and Pamela’s feels tenuous, and some readers who excel at anticipating the story might keep looking for Trudy to be more than an annoying houseguest. She never really turns enemy, leaving that issue somewhat unresolved.
Also, some might question whether Gabriel really needed three friends to help him on his quest. Hagen may have wanted to offer his readers familiarity in stock characters, and for the most part the children perform their parts well. An ending that feels a little abrupt might leave readers wondering exactly what happened, but Hagen may have left it open for a possible sequel.
The story will keep readers engaged, however. It goes from one scene to the next with somewhat predictable movements. For its target audience predictability may not count as a negative factor.
The highlight of the book comes in the riddles. Hagen has offered a variety of them: some in verse, some humorous, several puns. By the end of the book readers may look forward as eagerly to the riddles as they will to the book’s conclusion.
For the most part, I think readers in Hagen’s target audience will enjoy Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle.