Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric

This is a tough book to review. As an adult, I enjoyed this book a lot. The descriptive writing is amazing. You can feel the love and care the author took to describe Venice to the best of her ability. Her word choice is amazing, and you really can "see" everything she describes. The vocabulary doesn't feel childish, and the atmosphere and tone are consistent with the story.

The protagonist was interesting, though I didn't find her to be that sympathetic. Aside from being born into a mystery, I guess I didn't see why SHE got to do all this. Still, she's spunky, so I guess we're OK. (The "character" of Venice is by far the most developed in the book.) She is 11, and the setting is the late 19th century. Teodora knows she was adopted, but loves her adoptive family. However, she has always wanted to visit Venice. (The family lives in Naples.) Her parents have always been strangely reluctant, but her chance comes when her parents (both are scientists) are asked to come to Venice to help save the city, which seems to be under some very strange attacks from nature - the canals are rising, there have been unexpected shark attacks, etc. 

Teo is visiting a wonderful old bookstore when a book falls on her head and concusses her. The book has magical properties, as it turns out, and leads Teo into a world she couldn't imagine. Teo winds up "lost" from her family. She befriends a boy from Venice, and they try to help save the city from a horrible fate. Teo, is, of course, a Venetian from a long line of Guardians of the city - without giving too much away, she is "the undrowned child" of the title. Her adoptive parents were aware that she could be in danger if she returned, thus their reluctance to let her visit in the past.

There are mermaids and ghosts and talking cats, a mean frenemy, and a horrible villain from the Middle Ages. It is not for the faint of heart - the villain is truly nasty, and some of the monsters he calls up are frightening. It's an intriguing story and it has good pacing. I had a hard time putting it down.

Those are the good things. However, I'm a little curious/concerned as to the target audience of the book. With the length, the monsters, and the word choices, it definitely is not a "young reader" book. I've found, though, that the 11-year-olds that I know are much more interested in books about older teens, as I was at that age. Most 6th graders I see are reading The Hunger Games or Twilight or even adult novels...

This worries me for this book, because I don't see the 6th graders liking it all that well as far as the plot, which is exciting, but not grown-up, or even what I'd classify as Young Adult. Still, you couldn't give it to anyone much younger than 4th grade because of the vocabulary and length. I was NOT surprised to read the author blurb and find that all her previous books were for adults. The "kids like reading about their own age" seems like a common mistake for first time children's authors.

However, I did lend it to a 5th grade family friend (a girl - I also don't see my boys liking this all that well - it just "feels" like a girl book) and we'll see what she thinks. (Edited to add: had lunch with the girl's mom, and heard that she LOVED it. Maybe I'm pickier about the target audience than kids are?)

As I said, I did really like it myself. If you have a strong 3rd or 4th grade reader, or a 5th/6th grader who hasn't moved on to YA, I'd definitely recommend it for them.

Age Rating: PG (for scariness and monsters, no language or romance of any kind.)