Lauren Oliver’s newest book, “The Spindlers,” is neither a dystopic teen novel, nor a tear-jerker tale of a teen’s last day on earth, as were her excellent young adult novels (”Delirium” series and “Before I Fall,” respectively).
Instead, in keeping with the spirit of her 2011 success, “Liesl and Po,” she’s written a magical story for middle graders, which fantasy adventure fans will enthusiastically devour.
“One night when Liza went to bed, Patrick was her chubby, stubby, candy-grubbing and pancake-loving younger brother, who irritated and amused her both, and the next morning, when she woke up, he was not.”
So begins the story of “The Spindlers.” Liza seems to be the only one who notices that her little brother, Patrick, is not the same as he was the night before. The way he looks at her — it gives her chills. He may fool her parents with his studied, Patrick-like behavior, but Liza knows the truth: the spindlers have stolen his soul, and she’s the only one who can rescue him. Armed with only her courage, and a broom to beat off the atrocious, spider-like spindlers, she bravely sets off for Below, a strange world beneath her own.
Once Below, Liza befriends an intimidatingly large but knowledgeable rat, Mirabella, who agrees to help her find the spindlers. During their journey, Liza encounters all variety of mysterious creatures: thieving troglods, sensitive lumer-lumpen and shadowy nocturni, to name a few. Patrick’s predicament is allusive of the ancient British Isles tradition of fairy changelings.
Liza’s story is reminiscent of a 21st Century “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” from the discovery of the passage to Below and her eccentric rat guide, to the myriad fascinating creatures she meets on her journey. There’s even a tea-party-gone-wrong. Unlike Alice, however, resourceful Liza is on a mission to save her little brother — only one of the reasons some readers may find Liza a more sympathetic character than Alice.
Oliver’s fantastical creature-characters are original and delightful. Each new chapter introduces another layer of Liza and Mirabella’s adventure, and readers will rush to the end to see whether the two can overcome the obstacles and save Patrick’s soul from the evil spindlers. Overall, Lauren Oliver’s “The Spindlers” is enchanting; it will appeal to fans of Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman, as well as general fantasy buffs. Both adults and children will enjoy Liza’s adventure, whether individually or, preferably, as a deliciously spooky read-aloud on a cold winter’s night. Highly recommended for grades 3-7.