Review Detail4.0 1
Y'all, one of my favorite things is that this book is set in Atlanta. That may not be an important point for most people, but this is my hometown and I loved being able to recognize some landmarks. There wasn't a ton of that, but there was enough to satisfy me. Darwen, who has moved from England to live with his Aunt Honoria, even comments on the absurd number of streets named Peachtree, specifically mentioning one I live super close to! Just in case you're curious, an Allstate billboard has informed me that there are 71 streets named Peachtree in Atlanta, which is less than I would have thought.
The fantasy elements of Darwen Arkwright are most reminiscent of Narnia. Darwen has the rare ability to travel through magic mirrors into alternate worlds. These worlds are completely different from ours, although not precisely like Narnia, but the whole traveling business totally brought that to mind. Towards the end there's an even more specific similarity. Either way, I really like the concept of Narnia, so I was totally cool with all of this.
In the real world, we also have school drama, as poor Darwen struggles to find his place in a pompous new school in his new country. His Aunt, a lawyer, signs him up for an exceedingly privileged academy, where the students are forced to march around and be incredibly obedient. He's behind in all of the coursework and the teachers are almost all completely awful. His English teacher constantly mocks his accent and attempts to train him out of it, claiming he doesn't speak proper English.
None of this sits well with Darwen, who has never been good at fitting in, being mixed race and the only British person in the school. He quickly settles in with the school's other outcasts, albeit somewhat reluctantly. I actually really liked the way the friendships developed in this book, because they weren't immediate and had to be built. Though Darwen and Rick formed a sort of bond right away, Darwen really didn't care for Alexandra for much of the book. To be fair, she's a bit hard to take at first, like Pinkie Pie on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. She's just so incredibly cooky and does what she wants, not caring about the opinions of others unduly.
The cast of characters is one of the most important aspects of any novel, and, if anything, I think this is even more crucial in middle grade fiction, although I couldn't really say why. Hartley's cast is excellent I think. He also avoids a common middle grade issue, which is making the solutions too easy so that the audience is headdesking at the kids' inability to figure anything out. What was cool, too, was that adults literally could not have solved the problem had they been told, because Darwen was the one who could get into the mirror world. Plus, the kids really did have the resourcefulness as a team to figure out what to do. I do think the final battle's resolution was really lame, not to mention clearly drawn from another really popular book, but it wasn't a huge detractor.
Darwen Arkwright had everything that I want out of a middle grade novel: quirky characters, a realistic depiction of school cliques, and humor. If you like middle grade novels, definitely check this one out!