Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Middle-Grade Review: The Search for WondLa

 I had been eager to read the new middle-grade release from Tony Diterlizzi, co-author/creator of The Spiderwick Chronicles.  His latest is a middle-grade fantasy/sci-fi adventure called The Search for WondLa.  I ended up listening to the first half on audio and reading the second half on paper, with a rather mixed review of the two different approaches to telling this imaginative story.  Ultimately, I would recommend reading the book on paper but not listening to it on audio.

The story opens with 12-year old Eva Nine, a young girl who has grown up entirely isolated in an underground sanctuary with her robot mother (cleverly named Muthr, Multi-Utility Task Help Robot, a name I may adopt!).  Though Eva has been happy and well cared for, she sets off on a journey, eager to find others like herself.  Her only clue to help in her search is a scrap of torn paper that shows a girl like herself with a robot and an adult human with the torn words WondLa left.  The world she explores is filled with strange, wondrous, and sometimes frightening creatures.

I brought the audio on our California vacation this June, figuring it would be a perfect fit for our annual road trip, with all the elements my family usually enjoys: a young protagonist in a fantastical place on a fast-paced adventure.  We listened to about half of it before my kids finally said, “No more!” and my husband and I agreed.  Now granted, none of us are smack in the middle of the book’s intended audience of middle-grade readers (my sons are now 13 and 17 and their reading tastes have matured a bit), but all four of us felt that the audio production just wasn’t very good. 

The story was interesting, but the narrator (ironically a well-respected actress, Teri Hatcher of Desperate Housewives fame) just grated on us.  She read the main character, a twelve-year old girl, in a fake-sounding little girl voice.  My youngest son kept saying, “She just sounds too young!” And some of the other characters had similarly strange-sounding voices (granted, they are all strange, made-up sorts of beings).  It’s hard to describe, but we just found the overall effect annoying and finally gave up.

Upon returning home, I was determined to give it another try, this time on paper.  I finished reading the book and enjoyed it very much.  I think this is a case where the old-fashioned paper format is best, especially because Diterlizzi’s imaginative text is accompanied by lots and lots of his wonderful illustrations.  With so many unusual creatures and places in the story, the illustrations were additive, helping me to better imagine Eva’s adventures.  I found the rest of the book engrossing, loved the ending, and can’t wait for the next book in the planned trilogy!

NOTE:  The book and audio both have a unique feature.  You go to the WondLa website (where there is also a nice promo video of the story), click on the WondLa Vision icon, and follow the instructions to download special software (it took about 5 minutes).  Then, you hold up certain illustrations (3 different pages of the book or the pictures on the first 3 CDs) to your web cam, and up pops a 3-D map of Eva’s journey, each one adding to the last as the story unfolds.  It’s pretty cool.

473 pages, Simon & Schuster



parenting ad absurdum said...

I do love the cover! And I find even the best actors can ruin a narration - even Meryl Streep kinda ruined "T'was the Night Before Christmas" for me.

Maeve Frazier said...

Great Review!