Over the past 5 years I have become very close friends with the secretary at my children’s school. Not because of my children exactly (though she adores both and spoils them rotten) but because we both love to read. Last June (on the last day of school) I brought her a bag full of some of my favorite books. “Here you go,” I said. “Some goodies to keep you company this summer.” She of course flipped out, grabbing the bag and squealing for joy. (Because that’s what crazy book nerds do.) When school came back into session in August there she was, waiting for me with my bag full of books. All read, and all appreciated. But when I got home, books scattered around me in a circle, ready to be returned to their proper place on my shelves, I noticed an addition. A REALLY old fantasy novel, held together with tape and one perfectly positioned rubber-band. I KNEW this was not my book. But I was instantly taken aback by it’s amazing cover art. So I removed the rubber-band and took a peek at the first page. Instead of seeing a title, I saw a note.
This is my favorite book. It is well loved (as you can see) so I rarely loan it out. But after reading the wonderful books you loaned me this summer, I wanted to repay the kindness. You asked me once why I love to read fantasy novels. I told you it was because they help me escape. When I’m reading a book that is filled with pixies, ogres and epic quests, I feel like I am a part of them. So I want you to read this book. And escape to the same world I live in…once or twice a year. Go on an adventure Misty. I’ll see you when you get back. -C
Long story short, I read the book…and loved it. But since then I have yet to find a book to teleport me to another land in quite the same dramatic way.
Yes, I’ve loved books.
And yes, I have read several more fantasy since then.
But it wasn’t until I read Jaleigh Johnson’s “The Mark of the Dragonfly” that I felt truly taken away. To another land, where green-eyed boys can have wings. Where machines can explode with just a thought. Fire can be molded into rocks. Where a group of young people, who have been forced to grow up alone AND much quicker than most…set out to find freedom. And family. It’s books like this one that I want my child to grow up reading. It’s books like this one, that can create an imagination with no limits.
THIS is what middle-grade literature should be.
THIS is the story of a girl, who has no idea who she really is.
It’s important to note, that if you aren’t a religious reader of fantasy, “The Mark of the Dragonfly” (or any fantasy novel for that matter) might take you a tad longer to become invested in. TMOTD is not based on a world we know OR understand. It’s a world created specially for the telling of THIS story. Some words will not make sense. Other will feel familiar but will hold abstract meanings. Structures, laws, even the way the land is laid out
will all need to be established. (AKA: World building.) And though it may take some time (and a few extra pages) to let it all sink in, I promise you…it will. (And, subsequently, it will all make perfect sense.) Just give it a littletime.
As for the world inside of TMOTD, it’s one of desolation. Piper lives in a land ruined by greedy rulers. Farming is non-existent and food is scarce. To maintain any semblance of life, you must make your own luck. And by luck I mean you must scavenge for collectables amongst mounds of wreckage and hope you find something of value. EVERYTHING is dirty, and EVERYONE is jaded. The only thing Piper has going for her? An uncanny ability to fix mechanical objects. If it has gears…she’s your girl.
Unfortunately all of that is just background noise. The story actually takes place when Piper stumbles upon a GIRL in the wreckage that surrounds her house. A girl that has ZERO idea who she is, but is wanted by people of great importance. (And power.) So the quest begins…to find out who the girl is, and what the fuss is all about. But Piper finds herself in an odd situation. Caring for someone other than herself. Which makes the entire journey much harder than it should have been.
I don’t want to give the story away, so I’ll stop there, but I do want to point out a few things. First…Johnson’s wonderful attention to detail.
The best thing about fantasy is the ability to read it, and then instantly picture it in your mind. If you can’t, then the writer has missed the mark. Thankfully that is NOT the case with this novel. Here is an example:
TMOTD is full of wonderfully intricate examples, just like this one. Which is probably why I found it so easy to live inside of it. The more details on the page, the more inside my head.
But don’t worry. Details, doesn’t mean a lack of forward movement or dialogue. As a matter of fact (despite it’s 400 pages) Dragonfly was incredibly fast paced. Never slowing down in an attempt to build suspense. It was just there, ready and waiting for you to find it on the next page. It was also (surprisingly) jamb-packed with dialogue. (Which is LESS common in fantasy novels.) There was always someone talking. Be it Anna (who spoke to establish the situation/world) Piper (to establish the story) or Gee (to establish the emotions and gravity of the situation.) Each character was built with a purpose, and they executed it perfectly.
To top it all of, it integrated lessons. Which is always a bonus when you are looking for books for younger audiences.
It was clean (metaphorically speaking) solid, and just what I needed. And now, I’m off to share it with my 9 year old son. (And his secretary.)
Happy Reading my fellow Kindle-ites and remember: “The love of family and the admiration of friends is much more important than wealth and privilege.” – Charles Kuralt