The Book of Story Beginnings, by Kristin Kladstrup

I picked this book up on a whim because I liked the cover, side effects title, and plot synopsis. Yes, oddly enough, judging a book by its cover is what gets the book off the shelf and into my collection. I read it in two sittings, and it was enjoyable.

The Book of Story Beginnings 360-ish pages long, but it’s clearly meant for children, as opposed to a YA audience. While we know ‘children’ (I’m thinking 8-14) will read books of this length, it’s still packaged a little bit to look like it’s intended for a YA audience. It isn’t, really. The main character is 12, and her foil is 14. There’s actually very little coming-of-age stuff for the main character (her name is Lucy) – it’s mostly an adventure and a little bit coming-to-terms with her family.

The book starts off with a prologue set in 1914, where an unnamed young man (we find out his name is Oscar pretty quickly) who wants to be a writer comes up with a beginning of a story. He writes it down in an old volume he found in the attic called The Book of Story Beginnings. In his story beginning, a boy living in Iowa looks out his window, sees and smells the sea, and gets in a boat and rows off to an adventure. Right after he writes this, he looks out the window and . . . well, you can probably guess.

Fast-forward to present day. Lucy finds out from her parents that since her father didn’t get tenure at his university, they’re moving to Iowa, where his aunt Lavonna has left them a house. Lucy becomes intrigued by the story of great-aunt Lavonna’s older brother Oscar, who disappeared when he was 14. She finds all his old journals and reads them and then finds the Book of Story Beginnings. After writing in her own story beginning (inspired by her parents fighting over money), she . . . goes on an adventure. Of course she finds great-uncle Oscar; the sea coming into Iowa’s involved; there’s also a king who loves cats and a queen who loves birds, and a ship full of orphans . . . magic, alchemy, time-travel, and a happy ending.

The writing style is pretty simple, and, as I said, intended for middle-grade readers, but she manages not to talk down to her audience (which is a feat). The characters are actually pretty interesting – they have a fair amount of depth, and great-uncle Oscar (who is 14) actually does go through a bit of the coming-of-age stuff. The book takes place all over one summer, and we don’t get to see Lucy in school or anything else about her move halfway across the country, but at least she has a friend to start. The plot is pretty interesting, despite my lackluster description; I always love it when authors ‘waste’ multiple story ideas on one plot, and that’s what Ms. Kladstrup did. I’m pretty sure I’d recommend this to a middle-grade reader who isn’t afraid of longish books and who likes urban fantasy, or fiction with fantasy elements. I’ll give it 4/5 stars.

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