Northwood by Brian Falkner

By Ekta R. Garg

May 7, 2014

Rated: Bookmark it!

A determined young girl decides to help an imprisoned dog and sets into motion a life-changing set of events. Her tale includes black lions and a crooked king—but may or may not be true, depending on who you decide to believe. New Zealand author Brian Falkner gives middle grade readers this delightful, fresh story in the charming book Northwood.

Cecilia Undergarment lives in a loving home with her father, her stepmother, and their housekeeper, Jana. Her father owns a balloon factory and while he and his wife stay busy with work and charity functions, they always have time for Cecilia. Despite the unusual surname and their balloon-shaped house, Cecilia really does live a fairly ordinary life. With the exception of the fact that she can talk to animals.

When she hears desperate barks from the house next door Cecilia knows she has to help. She talks to Rocky, the Samoyed who lives in Mr. Proctor’s house next door. Mr. Proctor owns the town’s largest superstore and mistreats Rocky, refusing to feed him and even abusing him. Cecilia, shocked at finding all this out, begins formulating two plans. The first one entails approaching Mr. Proctor directly and asking him about Rocky. That plan backfires in a major way, and Cecilia knows she has to go with Plan 2: rescuing Rocky.

The rescue goes smoothly, but Mr. Proctor finds out and tries to get Rocky back. All of a sudden Cecilia finds herself in the middle of a rescue of another kind—but this time she has also to rescue herself. That works out too, but all of a sudden Cecilia finds herself on an unplanned journey to Northwood Forest.

Like everyone else in town, Cecilia feels wary of Northwood. People whisper about everyone who tried to venture into the forest and disappeared. But before she knows it, she’s in the middle of the infamous forest herself. And what she finds there will change her life.

Author Brian Falkner’s playful tone and approachable style will make Northwood a favorite for its target audience and adults alike. Falkner has developed in Cecilia a protagonist to root for: she’s smart, she’s brave, and she always wants to do the right thing. She’s also sensible, and Falkner makes her very real. Cecilia feels scared in the hair-raising moments of the story, but she’s still determined to fulfill her goals.

Donovan Bixley’s humorous illustrations really bring the story to life. The only complaint I have is that there aren’t enough of them. By genre definitions the middle grade set may have begun to outgrow picture books, but sometimes the pictures enhance the story so well that I think it would have made sense to break the rules in this case.

Falkner gives readers everything they want in a book: a complete story that will leave them wanting more. I highly recommend Northwood for anyone who likes to read.

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