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In The Spindlers, Lauren Oliver tackles a pretty standard fairy tale plot: the child whose sibling has been replaced with a changeling and the resulting quest bent on rescue. Liza wakes up to find her brother not himself. He looks the same and he has a lot of the same behaviors, but he is both too nice (perfect table manners and politeness) and too mean (spelling out 'I HATE YOU' to his sister in his alphabet cereal). Liza immediately knows what has happened to him: the Spindlers, spider creatures, have taken his soul, and, should it not be replaced soon, the shell of his body will turn into dust.
As is common in middle grade books, only Liza can save her brother from this tragic fate. Her parents refuse to believe her assertions that something is wrong with Patrick and tell her to grow up, now too old for stories. Unwilling to allow her brother to die, Liza determines to go look for him herself, so she goes down to the basement and into the crawl space. Once there, she falls into a deep hole.
It turns out the crawl space in her house connects to the Below, a world populated by the magical creatures her favorite babysitter, Anna, always told her about. She immediately gains a companion in the form of Mirabella, a rat who imitates humans. Mirabella also happens to be in possession of a number of articles stolen from her family. I'm glad to know that all of the things I can't find were not in fact lost through my carelessness but swiped by troglods.
Mirabella creeps me out a lot. Now, it's not because she's a rat. I know rats can be alright. One of my best friends in college had three rats senior year, and they were friendly creatures. Mirabella, though, sounds every kind of unpleasant. For one thing, she's person-sized. She wears clothing and a matted wig. She smells like a sewer, but covers her face in powder and mascara in an attempt to meet human standards of beauty. Basically, she will probably haunt the dreams of some. Call me vain, but I could not get past my immense distaste for Mirabella.
Liza's journey reminded me of any number of books. There was little I found especially original about this tale, except for the nocturni, which were really cool. Otherwise, the monsters, while new to me in name, fit classic molds. Still, I suspect the array of creatures will delight and terrify younger readers as they are intended to do. What Lauren Oliver brings to the story is her way with words. She has a glorious way of writing, one that I think will hold a lot of appeal for children, who also often like stories to follow familiar paths more than I do.
For fans of books like Gregor the Overlander or Coraline, The Spindlers will be a delight.