Engle tends to make a common literary trope into a page-turner, because she is not afraid of the weird. The fish-out-of water scenario and deft prose in her 2013 debut work, Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light, brought to mind Mark Twain’s 1889 classic, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Part of that is the author’s early exposure to classics such as,
Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, Joanna Spyri’s Heidi, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. I could go down the line with other examples, but suffice to say she draws readers toward the familiar then takes them to an odd place.
Engle’s main character, Mahlorie, rises out of a cascade of whiny, contemporary teen protagonists as a beacon. Don’t misunderstand. The girl is confused and furious about her parents, schoolmates, life, love, and loneliness as anyone your are likely to hear in the hall at a local middle or high school. Her voice is as real and at times grating as Rafe Katchadorian, the main character in James Patterson’s Middle School Series.
In fact, some readers might want to turn away by page 20. Hint – read past page 50. The story twists from tedious to tense, and readers drop into suspense. Mahlorie gets braces, nearly dies in a lightning strike, and meets what might be a boyfriend, if he is real. She can hear him in her head. He hears her. They roll down the road to weird with an end that does not disappoint.
How? Why? Read the novel. Young readers will want to know about how braces bring boys, or what Mahlorie does with the guy. Read. The smooth prose, clever plot twists will snag middle-schoolers. Adult readers will marvel at how Engle so clearly channels teens.