Random House, August 26, 2014
Gabriel Finley’s life has a big hole in it – the hole left by his father, who went missing three years ago. Gabriel and his father shared riddles and jokes and a whole lot of love, and then one day Gabriel’s father was simply gone. Though Gabriel loves his aunt, who’s raising him, he’s determined to find his father, even if it means journeying to the fabled city of Aviopolis, which lies directly under Gabriel’s hometown of Brooklyn. But Gabriel can’t do it alone. It’ll take a bunch of friends, some special powers, a lot of clever thinking, and even a few enemies to mount the toughest rescue operation Gabriel could ever imagine.
Many types of middle grade readers will love this book. Animal lovers will be thrilled at the idea of bonding – and flying with – a raven. The riddlers and lovers of word play will enjoy trying to beat Gabriel and his friends to the answers of the many riddles and puns scattered throughout the text. And the adventure seekers? The adventure is first rate, a true hero’s quest with a well drawn parallel world and testing and growth of Gabriel and all of the friends in his group.
Though I was drawn in by the fantasy and word play elements of this story, I especially appreciated Gabriel and the characters Hagen has drawn. I grew very fond of them all. None of these kids would be considered the popular kids at school, and yet they are admirable. We see their many strengths and gain insight into their vulnerabilities. They’re real kids, they make mistakes, deal with reasonable and unreasonable parental expectations, and learn to see beyond facades and trust one another. This would be a great read-aloud at home or in a classroom because the riddles and the depth of the characters provide much fodder for discussion. On the other hand, readers might not be able to wait for the slower pace of daily read-aloud sessions because they’ll be wrapped up in the adventure.
I read this book as an electronic arc courtesy of Random House Children’s Books (Schwartz & Wade) and NetGalley.