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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

13. The Journal of Curious Letters by James Dashner


LibraryThing Early Reviewers

January Early Reviewer Selection
Seems fitting that my 13th book read this year is:

Title: The Journal of Curious Letters
Series: The 13th Reality, Book 1
Author: James Dashner
Copyright: 2008
Pages: 429
Format: ARC Paperback through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 2-13-08

The 13th Reality: the Journal of Curious Letters is the first in a series by James Dashner. We follow the adventures of Atticus Higginbottom, or Tick as he likes to be called, as he begins to receive mysterious letters in the mail with clues as to a secret, magical ritual that he will need to perform that will help save the lives of many people. With no idea who is sending the letters or how to perform the ritual other than the enigmatic clues hidden in the letters he receives, Tick must discover the secret to the ritual and where and when to perform it. Gaining some friends along the way, Tick overcomes many obstacles to complete his mission and save the day.

To put it simply, I really enjoyed this book. Reading this as an adult, I didn't find it a particularly challenging book, but I know that when I was younger I would have loved this book just as much, if not more. Not being a parent, I can't always comment on how these books would be perceived by children, but there was one aspect of this book that immediately stood out to me from other books in the genre. In most kids books today, the protagonists are always the same age as the target audience, which is expected, but the kids always feel the need to keep their adventures secret from their parents or the adults most capable of helping them. I suppose the idea is to instill a sense of independence in kids, to give them the feeling that they can do anything, and that's a great attribute to instill in kids. It's what I'd want to do if I were a parent. However, it seems that sometimes this idea that kids need to keep secrets from the adults around them is taken to new levels in some books. What I liked about The Journal of Curious Letters is that Dashner did away with that stereotype and had Tick go to his dad and explain what was going on, and his dad took an active role in the story and the process of discovering the secret behind the mystery. Granted, they then kept the whole secret from Tick's mom, but the idea that Tick appreciated the fact that an adult's input would help him really stood out to me. I thought that this was a nice departure from the norm; that Tick's dad allowed him to be independent and follow through with his mission while being there as a support system for his son. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of the typical young kids books notions in The 13th Reality: like many protagonists, Tick's name is unusual, he's considered an outcast in school, he has an unusual physical feature that we wants to keep hidden, he gains a select number of friends around his same age to join in the adventure; there are secrets galore, a mysterious villain, mental and physical challenges, but he always overcomes these obstacles. The scientific part of the mystery I think will help the book appeal to a wider range of kids, too.

My only real complaint would be that the buildup of the story throughout the book seemed a little long in comparison to the actual ending. I feel that with such a large buildup there could have been more fleshing out of the final battle; it just all seemed a little rushed to me. Either the buildup could have been shortened in some way, or there could have been more time spent on the final sequence with the kids in the 13th Reality. I think the characters could have been developed a little bit more, but this is the first book, so I can excuse that. There's always room in the following books to explore their backgrounds.

I don't know that The 13th Reality series will be a runaway success like some others, but based on the first book, I can't imagine that it will be disregarded either. I think The Journal of Curious Letters, and the series as a whole, should appeal to both kids and adults who enjoy kids books equally. I anxiously await Tick's continuing adventures in the Realities.

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