Spell & Spindle – written by Michelle Schusterman, illustrated by Kathrin Honesta

 Spell & Spindle – written by Michelle Schusterman, illustrated by Kathrin Honesta, Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House, 9780399550706, 2018

Format: Hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review3.5

Genre:  Fantasy

What did you like about the book With stories of lost children and stolen souls, Spell and Spindle weaves an eerie and tangled mystery of love, sadness, and secrets. The Museum of Peculiar Arts is the perfect setting to begin a creepy tale with its eclectic inventory of vampire fangs, fairy bones, and cursed jewelry but one piece stands out among the rest; Penny the marionette sits atop a high shelf, listening, watching, and waiting for someone to notice she is alive.

Schusterman most notably builds characters that are engaging and flawed, adding a true sense of authenticity to this fantasy world. Aside from the protagonists Penny and Chance and the mysterious antagonist, readers are treated to glimpses of backstories for the supporting cast beyond simple introductions that expand this 255 page book into a captivating epic of emotions. Achieving this feeling while maintaining a small page count gives this book accessibility for younger readers ready for more in-depth stories.

This depth moves beyond characters and into the story itself as the author addresses many contemporary issues including sexism and racism through the eyes of Penny, whose minimal experience with the world allows these situations to come to light in the eyes of an innocent character; Penny may not understand why the people act in this way towards those who are different from them, but she is going to do her best while staying careful. Penny’s inner monologue acts as a moral compass and cautionary tale that will stick with readers.

Anything you didn’t like about it?  Unfortunately, the book’s strengths also become its greatest weaknesses as it attempts to tackle too much at once. The writing falls into the classic trap of attempting to reach the next action sequence quickly by unloading the entire backstory of villainy in one chapter instead of leaning more heavily into the clues dropped throughout the story and allowing readers to puzzle the mystery themselves. Additionally, this tale of gloom comes to a sharp standstill as the story concludes with such an idealistic outlook.  Additionally, chapter headings routinely recycle illustrations but have very little to do with the actual chapter, leaving readers a little unsatisfied by their inclusion.

To whom would you recommend this book Many other reviewers have noted that this would be a great follow-up for fans of both Doll Bones and Splendors and Gloom.  I wholeheartedly agree as this story shares that creeping sensation of someone watching you while you read.

Who should buy this book? Children’s library collections (public and school) as an additional purchase.

Where would you shelve it ? Juvenile fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No. This is a great story, but has some flaws that put it lower on your TBR list.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Melissa McCleary, Pembroke Public Library, Pembroke, MA

Date of reviewAugust 26, 2018

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