I just read Lauren Oliver’s recent children’s fantasy/adventure, The Spindlers, with an eye toward selecting it for our branch’s book club for grades three through five. My verdict? Yes! I was thoroughly transported by Oliver’s vivid description of a unique underground world and swept up in the adventure and smart humor of this inventive story. I feel that third through fifth graders, and many middle schoolers too, will devour it.
Liza is an intelligent tween who becomes convinced that her younger brother Patrick’s soul has been taken for future noshing by the spindlers, dastardly spider-like creatures who live “Below”. Despite the fact that her mother thinks she is making everything up, Liza decides that she must travel underground and make a rescue attempt.
Through a hole in her basement, Liza enters a world utterly different from her own, dark and mossy and lit by tiny glowworms. The first creature that Liza meets is the incomparable Mirabella, a rat who wears makeup and a newspaper skirt, along with a wig partially made of “some pale yellow hair Liza thought she recognized from the head of her old doll, Amelia”. Mirabella agrees to help Liza, and the two set off on a journey through dangerous forest and tall mountains, a bustling marketplace and a crystal palace. Along the way, they meet creatures such as rock-shaped troglods, shape-shifting scawgs and the mysterious and lovely butterfly/hummingbird nocturni. In order to make it to her brother, Liza will have to use her brains and call on the strength of memories and stories.
Liza is a realistic protagonist whom we can admire, doing her best to quash her frustration and confront her fears in order to reach her goal. Through highly imaginative details, Oliver creates a singular atmosphere that makes it easy to believe in the fantastic doings afoot. Fans of other children’s novels which take place underground, such as Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander, will love The Spindlers, but Oliver’s skillful command of dialogue, pacing and plot twists will make this novel appeal to a wide range of children and tweens. On Oliver’s Web site, make sure to check out her great set of videos about the book publishing process, in which she uses The Spindlers as an example.