The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

Goodreads: The Spindlers
Source: ARC from Goodreads giveaway

Summary:  When Liza’s brother Patrick starts behaving differently, her frazzled parents notice nothing.  But Liza knows that the stories her old babysitter used to tell, the ones about the spider-like spindlers who steal children’s souls, are true, and that it is up to her to go Below and rescue Patrick’s soul before it is gone forever.

ReviewThe Spindlers is a cute, fun story but certainly not Oliver’s best or most original.  The jacket copy mentions hints of Alice in Wonderland and Coraline in the text, but there is also clear inspiration taken from Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as well as from C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.  Though the story does have its own creative touches, it often reads like an amalgamation of repurposed fantasy elements.

Most of the story is based in the fantasy, rather than in the characters or plot.  The sense is that the book is saying, “Look at this magical place with its interesting geography and its weird creatures!” more than it is saying anything else—which makes it more of a flaw that the weird creatures are not particularly fascinating or remarkable.  And even after all the description, Below is still an ambiguous, poorly defined place.  It is not even clear until pretty far in that Below has no sunshine.  Whether this means the place is like a dark tunnel with a dirt roof is hard to say.  Liza certainly experiences no claustrophobia.

The best part may be Liza’s determined bravery in wanting to rescue her brother’s soul.  She carries on a like a true solider, facing danger after danger just to do what is right for someone she loves.  It would have been better for the readers, however, if the “real” Patrick had been introduced before this mission.  Instead, we see first the “wrong” Patrick.  This makes it difficult to care very strongly about Patrick as an individual, instead of merely hoping for his soul’s safe return simply because, as decent human beings, we would hope for anyone’s soul to be safe.

Oliver’s writing does flow nicely, but it may be more “beautiful” (whatever that subjectively means) in her teen books.  There are also fewer notable quotations.  Only one leaped out at me: “That was what her parents did not understand—and had never understood—about stories. Liza told herself stories as though she was weaving and knotting an endless rope.  Then,  no matter how dark or terrible the pit she found herself in, she could pull herself out, inch by inch and hand over hand, on the long rope of stories” (ARC 108).

The Spindlers was just nice. I gave it a solid three stars on Goodreads, but Oliver has written better books, and there are books by other  middle-grade authors that have done what Oliver is trying to do here better.  The story gives off the general impression that it was written too quickly, without the time necessary to develop it into a truly creative and thought-provoking book.  Although it is decent, it is a disappointment in light of Oliver’s other work.

Publication Date: October 2, 2012

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