Remember, in the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, when Willy Wonka took the children and their guardians for a ride in a boat? Remember how the boat ride suddenly because dark and sinister, and you sensed there was something seriously evil afoot in the chocolate factory? Keep that boat ride in mind, and you'll have some idea of where GoneAway Into the Land (2008, Wandering Sage Publications) is going to take you.
"His name was Danny Greber, Daniel Johannes Greber, but I named him the beast." From its opening line, GoneAway crackles with danger. Author Jeffrey Allen creates a vivid, animated world in which trains breathe and an attic full of discarded housewares plots its revenge. Clearly, Allen has a poet's eye. His young hero, thirteen-year-old John, has a poet-warrior's heart. Imagine Harry Potter if, instead of the slightly unpleasant Dursleys, Harry had been raised by a full-grown mountain troll.
John's beast of a father is unpredictable and dangerous. He takes the story book villain to a whole new level of greed and ignorance.
"The beast" finally goes too far when he disappears, taking John's little sister, Marny, with him. The search for Marny leads John and his mother, Ellie, in the Land, a place they couldn't have imagined in their wildest dreams. (Think of Candyland crossed with Gregory Maguire's vision of Oz and you'll have something of an idea.) Allen skillfully combines the everyday world with the fantastic, a seemingly seamless combination which reminds the reader of the very best of fantasy novels. Yet, GoneAway never imitates the style of other fantasies. It remains fresh and surprising, giving the reader little thrills of recognition but never descending into fairy tale cliches.
A note at the end of the book promises the GoneAway series will continue in a second book. The GoneAway series promises to be a fascinating one, as the first book ends on notes of hope, but also of missed opportunity. It will be rewarding to see how the series develops.
GoneAway Into the Land is a highly satisfying reading fix for older children. It will not disappoint adult fans of fantasy, either. Readers who enjoyed Keith Miller's The Book of Flying and other fairy tales for grown-ups will also appreciate GoneAway.