“Enchanted Ivy,” by Sarah Beth Durst, reads like a love letter to Princeton University. Durst acknowledges in her foreword that she is an alumna of the school, and that she wanted to write a novel that incorporated the many gargoyles from the campus buildings as characters. While she manages to do so, she fails to develop a believable plot for her characters. Lily, the protagonist, embarks on what she initially believes to be a “special” test to gain early admission to Princeton. In the process of her test, she discovers she is really half-dryad, that her mother is not crazy, and that gargoyles and magic are lively and well in New Jersey.
I have no problem with fantasy novels, nor do I usually fret about suspending disbelief, but Lily shifts too quickly from skeptical to accepting when it comes to the magic of the novel. Alliances are made and broken too quickly, people seem to recover too easily from their problems, and the magical realm that Durst introduces seems more dull than I would like it to be. I just never felt swept up into the world of this novel.
I had equal difficulty with accepting “Boom!” by Mark Haddon. This novel takes off on a familiar tack—“hey some of our teachers are space aliens!” Jimbo and Charlie bug the teachers’ lounge at their school in an effort to find out if Jimbo is about to be expelled. Instead, they hear two of their teachers speaking in a clearly alien language and behaving in strange ways. As they spy on their teachers, they learn enough to be dangerous—Charlie ends up kidnapped, and Jimbo has to turn to his sister Becky for help to find him.
In general, this novel is livelier and more engaging than “Enchanted Ivy,” but it still falls flat. Jimbo, Charlie, and Becky are believable characters, but they are stuck in a novel that just never really seems to come alive. I can almost hear the machinery of the novel creaking in the background. The characters are trying to play along, but the plot lets them down.
Posted by Lydia Schultz.