Deborah Abela, The Book of Wondrous Possibilities, Penguin Random House Australia, August 2022, 288 pp., RRP $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781761044021
The opening sentences had me hooked – as they’re designed to do. The door of the bookshop burst open, sending the bells above into a frantic jangle. A young girl flew to the counter. Almost immediately a frightening man breaks in looking for her, and Arlo unexpectedly has the presence of mind to protect the girl. Within a few pages we have the brief synopsis of the story: Arlo, living in a run-down bookshop with his uncle Avery; Lisette being pursued by the murderer Silas Gray; Herbert the mouse who quickly assesses people’s characters; and THE book, the grimoire, written by Arlo’s mother before she unexpectedly died. But Silas also wants the book and is ruthless in his pursuit. And so, the wonderful adventure begins. Add in characters like malicious Benedict Cruickshank, extravert Griselda, lonely Viola in her castle-like house and her father Marcellus Preston and there are quests aplenty.
The grimoire can be read by anyone but only those with special powers, using the glasses included inside the back cover, can change story to reality. Arlo, through living the story, discovers he is much more courageous than he thinks and can overcome obstacles thrown at him. This is the message his mother consistently told him before she died but he has to learn it for himself.
It’s a great adventure with all the classic elements of fantasy, as the reader moves from one challenge to the next. There are strong themes of friendship, kindness and cooperation; grief and grieving; good versus evil; bravery and courage. Books, bookshops and librarians are an important element throughout the story.
I loved it.
Highly recommended for individual primary-aged readers and it would also make a great read-aloud.
Reviewed by Maureen Mann