In Cambridge, England, 14-year-old Madeleine is just going about the business of her new but dull, gray life with her mother. The two had lived a globe-trotting, decadent existence before Madeleine decided yet again to run away — and her mother followed. Now Madeleine, along with neighbors Jack and Belle, is home-schooled by her mom and various others.
Elliot is a 15-year-old living in the kingdom of Cello, in the farming area of Bonfire. He’s primarily focused on finding his father, who’s been missing for a year, with the official line being that he was taken by a Purple. In Cello, colors do things, including acting like wild animals and killing people.
Madeleine is just starting to develop an interest in Jack, who has an interest in her, too, and Elliot is reluctantly committed to staying in Bonfire because of the tiny Butterfly Child when they end up exchanging letters to each other through a small crack between their worlds. And as their stories develop, with Madeleine desperately wanting to get back to her old life even as she realizes something is wrong with her mom and Elliot is trying to figure out what really happened with his dad, they are able to help one another.
While this is essentially a summary of what begins to happen in the story, it feels almost impossible to capture what the book is like, what it’s about. Two different stories are happening, almost entirely independent of each other, and they only converge the smallest bit toward the end. I couldn’t help but wonder why for most of the book, and even as the conclusion was lovely, satisfying and interesting, it also became a setup for more books, more stories. I liked the book but had mixed feelings. Sometimes I found the story slow going. But it’s original and different and has a distinct setting and tone. It’s about our decidedly “real” and “normal” world as well as one that’s mostly “normal” but not one that exists for us readers, that has elements of magic. The juxtaposition of the two is what makes the book: intertwining the needs and challenges of two young people in two different worlds and having their bit of correspondence with each other end up helping them both. I’m probably not in the mood to read the second book right away, but I will want to get to it sometime to see where the author takes the characters in a new story arc.
(On an interesting note, Jaclyn Moriarty is the sister of novelist Liane Moriarty, whose book The Husband’s Secret I just read this month. They’re both talented; I will probably remember Jaclyn’s writing more because it’s unique and the setting has more imagination.)
Rated: Mild, for occasional mild and moderate language. Sexual content is only some kissing and references to possible infidelity.