By Christina Soontornvat
Published in 2016 by Jabberwocky/Sourcebooks.
Reviewed by Bradley P. Wilson.
I highly recommend Christina Soontornvat’s debut middle grade novel to all lovers of high fantasy, regardless of their age. The Changelings reads like an old favorite even as it keeps surprising the reader with its plot twists and character revelations. This is due in large part to the adept way the author weaves familiar fairy tale settings and characters into the fabric of her book. Most of the book is set in a parallel world called Faerie, a world that is tenuously, but necessarily, connected to our own.
It opens on eleven year old Izzy Doyle “in the school supply section of the Jiggly Goat, coming to terms with her fate.” Izzy and her little sister Hen have just moved to the small town of Everton and the endearingly world weary Izzy misses city life. Until the clerk at the Jiggly Goat tells her about the witch who lives next door to Izzy and Hen’s new home, perking Izzy’s interest. Of course the clerk has to be wrong about the next door neighbor. Or is he?
Either way, Izzy’s new home gets more interesting when she starts spying on her new neighbor. But little sisters can be problematic. They like to tag along. And sometimes they irritate big sisters until big sisters snap and say things that they regret. Worse than that, sometimes little sisters follow mysterious flute music into the woods where they stumble into the land of Faerie.
The Changelings is a classic fantasy quest: Izzy must find and rescue her sister. Then she has to get them both back home again. It’s the story of girl learning to fight for what she wants and come to grips with who she is. And, on a thematic level, it’s about different groups of people learning to live with each other. None of which stops it from being frequently funny. Plus it’s filled with complex and fascinating characters, many of whom can shapeshift. In fact, it’s Soontornvat’s cast that really elevates this book. While it’s definitely aimed at the middle grade market with its clearly drawn villain and hero, there is a depth to its characters – even the minor ones – that should draw in readers of all ages.
So buy a copy of Christina Soontornvat’s The Changelings when it comes out in September. Read it for yourself and then pass it on to a younger reader. You’ll be glad you did.
Bradley P. Wilson is much better at reading and editing other people’s novels than he is at writing his own. But he keeps trying. He’s a freelance fiction editor and ghost writer with Yellow Bird Editors and Greenleaf Book Group in Austin, TX. He’s also a stagehand. You can read his blog at bradleypwilsonliterary.com.