Friday, February 18, 2011

Between Two Ends

Ward, David. 2011. Between Two Ends. New York: Amulet.

Yeats' father has always suffered from depression, triggered by a traumatic event from his childhood.  It has been a constant source of friction in the family, pushing his parents' marriage to the brink of disaster.  Now, in a final attempt to rid his father's mind of its troubles, Yeats and his parents travel to the ancestral home of  Dr. William Trafford, Yeats' father. They hope that a visit with Yeats' peculiar grandmother in her mysterious home on Poet's Lane, will shed some light on, and perhaps relieve William's miserable condition.

But Yeats and his mother are in for quite a surprise.  Mr. Trafford's condition is not a case of mental illness as they had thought; it is a real and palpable fear and despondency over events that occurred at Gran's house, the house of dead poets, many years ago.  Gran's house contains more than an abundance of rooms and books, and a wishing well - it contains magic - a magic that once took Dr. Trafford and a young companion into the written world of The Arabian Nights.  But Dr. Trafford was the only one to return.

Now, with the help (hindrance?) of two magical pirate bookends, Yeats must travel to the Arabia of legend to rescue William's childhood friend, Shari, Shaharazad, the vizier's daughter, who has been trapped in the tales of The Arabian Nights for twenty years!

Between Two Ends is a mysterious story of adventure.  The reader begins the story with the prologue - a scene from the past?  a memory? a story? He doesn't yet know,
The girl tugged at her long black curls, she made to kneel, to reach out to the boy, but strong hands kept her on her feet.  The boy's fair hair and pale complexion contrasted sharply with  the people in the market, but she couldn't remember why that was important.  Hardly distinguishable from the overwhelming odor of cattle dung and fruit, a spicy, pungent smell hung in the air. The girl's heart raced with excitement now at the wonders around her.  Her feet wanted to dance. Wherever the black-robed men wanted to take her she felt no danger going with them. After all, they knew her name.

From here, the reader vaults into the silent, foreboding trip to Gran's house.

Once Yeats disappears into The Tales of the Arabian Nights, the story moves rapidly - full of danger, palace intrigue and adventure.  The location shifts between Arabia and Gran's stately English home, with most chapters following the adventures of Yeats and his quest to break the magic spell and rescue Shari. Third-person omniscient narration offers an easy transition between the two locations and many characters. Also separating the "real" world from the world of legend is an actual "river of words," one that must be navigated by boat. (the pirates are useful here!)

It's hard to read Between Two Ends without recalling Cornelia Funke's Inkheart Series - there are many parallels to the two, but Between Two Ends is a less complex story for a younger reader and comes in under 300 pages with a satisfying conclusion.  Although, the door (or book, as it were) is left open for a sequel.  Treasure Island anyone?

Between Two Ends is a satisfying adventure story with a strong characters in both Yeats and Shaharazad that may well spur an interest in the legendary 9th century tales of One Thousand and One Nights. Fans of many genres will enjoy this story.  Best for middle grades.

Advance copy supplied by publisher.  Due on shelves in May.

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