Friday, May 13, 2011

Mainstream Author Highlight: N.D. Wilson

"Mainstream Author" highlights, as well as our "Mainstream" reviews are not necessarily recommendations for Christian families. Rather, as parents we recognize that many kids will read such books, with or without parental permission. Our goal is to help parents prepare for what their kids may read, offer insights into positive aspects of the books, and give tips on areas to talk to kids about. In addition, we recognize that sometimes "dark" books may be difficult to read, but can offer an excellent way for teens to think about the world we live in.

N.D. Wilson's recently acclaimed fantasy trilogy, 100 Cupboards, is probably the best American fantasy written for kids since Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time series. For those who prefer realistic writing, Wilson has also written Leepike Ridge, an adventure reminiscent of Huck Finn, but in a modern-day setting. Although the books aren't specifically Christian, Wilson does have a Christian background and writes from a Christian worldview.

In 100 Cupboards and its companions, Dandelion Fire and The Chestnut King, Wilson skillfully juxtaposes rural Kansas, with its dust, baseball games and homemade pies, and the various worlds beyond the cupboard doors. Depending on the door and its combination, you may end up in an enchanted ballroom; on a burning pirate ship; or in a beautiful walled garden where sinister forces are at work. For Henry York, not only do the cupboards offer adventure and intrigue, they also hint at Henry's forgotten family and the daring destiny that awaits him.

As Henry, his cousin, Henrietta, and his friend, Zeke, travel through the different worlds, Henry realizes his life is connected to Mordecai Westmore, green man, and long lost ruler of Hylfing, to faerie realms that govern travel between worlds, and to Nimiane of Endor, an evil witch he mistakenly releases from prison. Henry is called to conquer Nimiane and her forces once and for all, but he will need the help of family from Kansas, Mordecai, and all the faeries, if he is to be successful.

Leepike Ridge is the story of Tom, a young boy who seeks refuge on a river raft (packing foam from a new refrigerator), but never dreams he will float over a waterfall and be trapped in underwater caves indefinitely. Tom stumbles upon a dead body and several mysterious items, before he meets Reg, a survivor who has been trapped in the caves for three years. Together, they make their way out, but not before discovering hidden treasure and learning their lives have been intertwined for longer than they realized.

What I Like: I love Wilson's characters. Henry is a believable hero, who throws up when he is afraid, and would rather just play baseball and stay out of trouble. However, readers will cheer every time he steps up to the challenge and faces his fears. Uncle Frank and Aunt Dotty, a comforting Kansas couple, are full of surprises once they travel through the cupboards. Henrietta is just the sort of obnoxious, but good-hearted, cousin we all can relate to.

I also appreciate Wilson's intelligent, lyrical writing. He crafts language and weaves pictures that will stick with readers and even crop up in their dreams. The books will please those interested in fast-paced fantasy and adventure, and will delight those who pick up on the myriad of biblical, classical and mythological allusions.

What I Dislike: There is nothing I dislike, but the books did describe enough dead bodies and scary images for me to have bad dreams one night.

Age Appeal: 9 and up, but the books could be scary for more sensitive readers.

Publisher Info: Random House/Yearling, 2007-2011; ISBN: 978-0-375-83882-8 (100 Cupboards); Paperback and Hardcover, 320-496 pages, $6.99-$17.99

Buy 100 Cupboards at for $6.99.

Buy Dandelion Fire at for $6.99.

Buy The Chestnut King at for $11.37.

Buy Leepike Ridge at for $6.99.

Special Note: Characters use the word "bastard" as a derogatory term once in Leepike Ridge and once in Dandelion Fire. Also, characters use several types of magic, but occult practices (consulting with the dead, using blood to work spells) are clearly shown as evil, and are used only by Nimiane of Endor (similar to C.S. Lewis' use of magic in the Narnia series).

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