*I was given a review copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
So I’ve had this idea for a Middle Grade novel rolling around in my head for awhile, and I recently decided to go ahead and take a crack at writing it (and I’m actually attempting it as my NaNoWriMo project, but that is already Not Going Well).
One small problem, though, is that I hadn’t read much current Middle Grade since about 2002 (you know, when I was actually in the age range to read it). So, I thought I should do my research and see what’s new and notable in Middle Grade fiction right now.
Given this resolution, it was fortuitous that I was recently given a review copy of Esme’s Wish, Elizabeth Foster’s 2017 Middle Grade-to-Young Adult transitional novel, and the first in a series. I already read lots of YA, so this was the perfect book to help me transition to reading MG (though I think for younger readers, that transition is supposed to go the other way–oh, well).
I like the idea of having this transition stage in kidlit, as I’m sure it can be jarring for young teens to go from reading MG, in which 11- and 12-year-old protagonists are having adventures and learning their place in the world and how to be good friends, straight to reading YA, in which 16- and 17-year-old protagonists are leading rebellions and saving the world.
Esme, the eponymous heroine of Esme’s Wish, is right in the middle of these two extremes. She is 15 years old, though she often seems a bit younger, as many 15-year-olds do sometimes; this is that awkward age when you’re no longer an early teen, but you don’t yet have the self-possession you start to learn in your later teens.
The book opens at a wedding, with Esme objecting in the middle of the ceremony to her father’s remarriage, with her mother having mysteriously disappeared some years before. Esme’s mother told her stories of a magical land called Aeolia when she was little, and Esme has held onto these stories.
We quickly see that Esme doesn’t feel she “belongs” anywhere, at her school, or even in her own family. She runs away from home, only to find herself in that magical world from those stories her mother told her.
‘I’ve seen this city before. In one of my mother’s drawings. It’s like she drew it from this very spot.’
He shrugged. ‘Maybe she did.’
‘She used to tell me stories about a place like this…’
‘So how come she hasn’t brought you here herself?’
‘I… I don’t know. She disappeared when I was young. They searched for her everywhere.’
Except here. Nobody’s looked here.
As Esme journeys into this enchanting world, she learns more about her mother and this land she knows from these stories. (By the way, Aeolia also has dragons.) But the more Esme learns about her mother, the more lost she becomes.
I found this book really easy and enjoyable to read, and I’m sure it would be perfect for 12- to 14-year-olds who are ready for something a little more challenging than Middle Grade. The world building is strong, the characters are believable, and there’s just enough of a “message” without being “preachy.” It’s really all about not giving up hope and finding yourself, which are appropriate messages regardless of your age.
The one thing I wanted more of that we didn’t get in this book was the dragons! I want to learn more about them and their lore, but I’m sure we will get that in book 2!
Esme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster is available now. Click here to buy from an Indie Bookstore!