Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Ifs by J D Pooker

The Story:
Broden and Landon are typical brothers, playing hard together and just as intensely competing and bickering at home. They love to stage battles in the woodsy areas of their local park. Little do they know that they are being observed by the Ifs, miniature people who reside in the forests who make contact with humans when their help is needed.
Strange events begin to occur at their house - clothes being put away, homework being completed, seemingly by no one in their home. When the boys finally build the nerve to not only tell each other, but to also share with their mother, she teaches them about the Ifs and how to trap one in a mason jar. The If, Slade, convinces them to let him out of the jar so that he can ask for their help in defeating an enemy If tribe bent on destroying their village. Broden and Landon are flattered into believing that they are terrific warriors who are needed to come to the Ifs' aid.
The brothers soon find that the Ifs, however small are not helpless and prove to be brave warriors themselves.

My Review (may include some spoilers):
I enjoyed reading The Ifs. The brothers are realistic and seem very believable for their ages. The parents seem a little nonchalant for the events occurring around them, especially the mother, who has prior knowledge of the Ifs. The action in the battle scenes is well played out and would be fun for middle grade readers. I loved the part of the story in which the Ifs must first do a good deed for a human before asking for help.

Some of the battle scenes were a little uncomfortable for me to read, as the brothers were forced to make the decision of whether to use force to repel the attacking animals in the woods and their If riders. However, by letting the reader know that this is not usual accepted behavior by the boys and that it is only in the context of self-preservation, it was actually realistic. I liked the parallel between the If brothers and the human brothers, all learning tolerance and acceptance (well, maybe Gage needs to work on this) of each other.

My only concern with the book is that I feel that it needed more editing before publication. There were typos and some grammar errors that slowed me down, as well as too much telling, not showing. The point of view might have been better written if coming from one main character rather than jumping from one brother to another, at least separated by chapters.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book to middle grade readers. I think this would be an excellent book for male reluctant readers, who would probably identify with the characters and who would enjoy the action packed into the novel.

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier

Molly and her younger brother, Kip have been left on their own by their Irish parents. Molly uses storytelling and humor to keep Kip's spirits up until their parents return. She takes positions for them as servants at an old English manor in order to escape the orphanage, but is this really a good alternative? Ill treatment from the mistress and her son, not to mention the strange muddy footsteps which enter the house each night, cause Kip and Molly to rethink their commitments. Molly discovers the origin of the muddy footprints and believes that an ancient tree growing into the house has given them hope. Hope soon turns to horror as Molly and Kip realize the power over the family and themselves from this intruder.
Jonathan Auxier has beautifully written a story of human expectations, hope, greed, and compassion. I was intrigued by all of the characters, each of whom fought his/her own private demons, not just the terror of the Night Gardener. I was fortunate to have "read" the book with my ears, as I bought it on with Beverley A Crick narrating. She weaves the characters voices in and out through the story with charming lilts which further endear the Molly and Kip to the reader.
I would highly recommend this book to older children and adults. The dark creepiness of the setting and the depth of its characters will keep you turning the pages long after the sun has gone down...

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