Series: The Colors of Madeleine, book one
Style or genre: Magical realism
Reading level: Grade 8 and up
Cover: Perfect, except for one glaring (deliberate, I think) flaw!
Oh, if only our World had a neighboring Kingdom like this one! The World most certainly does have kingdoms, you reply, so what kind of Kingdom are you hankering for, Excitable Reader? Why, nothing less than the Kingdom of Cello (pronounced “Chello”), which, to quote “The Kingdom of Cello: An Illustrated Travel Guide,” “needs no introduction, experiences no seasons (at least not in the traditional sense), and can therefore be visited at any time all"--so why wouldn’t you?
Here’s why: It’s been almost 400 years since the cracks between the World and Cello (and its neighboring Kingdoms and Empires) were sealed by the World Severance Unit on account of the plagues that ravaged Europe and England in the 1600s and which were seeping into Cello. Since then, something small, like an orange or a leaf, might slip through a tiny crack between the two places, but Cello has long disappeared from the psyche of this World. Then, one day, a mysterious piece of paper appears wedged into a parking meter in Cambridge (our World) and is plucked out by Madeleine Tully, age 14, newly arrived in England. The paper reads: “Help me! I am being held against my will!” so, naturally intrigued, Madeleine replies in her note to the parking meter something to the effect that she, too, feels held against her will in her new impoverished life with her mother, the two of them having run away from a wealthy lifestyle and the father/husband who gave it to them. But, she adds, if this note she’s writing and wedging back into the parking meter is going to a real person, she apologizes for sounding spoiled, and recommends that the writer contact the police. The recipient of the note, however, is neither the parking meter nor the original writer but a young man named Elliot, living in the Farms (“but if there’s one province in Cello that you’ll want to skip, it’s the Farms,” states the helpful guide). And he knows about the sealing of the cracks between worlds, and that it is a sentence of death to not report a crack to the authorities.
And so the two worlds meet again, between the cracks, told in alternating viewpoints. Madeleine generally disbelieves anything Elliot writes about his “fantasy” kingdom and its strangely dangerous magical happenings (colors, for instance, can move in discrete waves and affect you profoundly, and sometimes attack and kill you! “Oh, come on,” she replies, “Newton proved light moves in waves, but killing people?”), but enjoys the correspondence even though she suspects “Elliot” may be a middle-aged lurker. Elliot is torn between outrage that he needs to justify his existence and that of his kingdom, and the curiosity he feels for the lost World of Madeleine and her strangely troubled life. And while each teen experiences heart-rending problems with his/her parents and friends that summer in their respective worlds, they are aided by the alternating challenge and compassion they encounter in each other’s letters, and eventually come to trust one another’s stories. Now the question is, how far can they actually go to help each other—and the lives of many in the Kingdom of Cello?
I can’t wait to see where this story goes! The sequel comes out soon.
Reviewed by Anarda