by Pauline Fisk (Bloomsbury, 2005, first published, 1990)
Ages 9 and up
One of the reviews of this fantasy likens it to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I’d have to say I agree, although it’s quite different in many ways. There are parallels, however, in the novel’s engagement with the beauty of the natural world, an emphasis on the individual’s connectedness to others, and the existence of a parallel world or universe.
Set in England, Fisk sketches a fascinating landscape featuring a parallel world within which a young girl, Bonnie, works through issues of anger and bitterness, develops a place within a family, and then becomes, in many ways a new individual.
I was drawn to the opening of the novel: “It began as it always did with sweet, solitary notes of music that called to her from somewhere beyond the sky…” (8). This otherworldly music characterizes Bonnie’s travel by way of hot air balloon to a world beyond the sky. Fisk includes several fantasy concepts that I haven’t encountered in other stories, and in many ways, her text takes surprising turns. The reader encounters a bitter grandmother, dangerous enchanted mirrors, a protective necklace, and a shadowboy.
Through her presence in this parallel world that includes almost exact copies of herself, her mother, a male friend, and her grandmother, she is able to work through personal issues that will enable her to function as a healthy individual once she returns home. However, the reader wonders: Will Bonnie decide to return to her original world? The book is realistic in the sense that Fisk makes it clear no matter how many worlds removed we become from our original world, our personal issues follow us. At some point, we have to deal with fear or anger or rejection, and work through such issues in order to become healthy—emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
From the start of the book, Bonnie’s engagement with her imagination is clear. Bonnie has been raised by an awful grandmother due to her mother’s inability to take care of her, and perhaps it is this negative upbringing that especially positions her to jump at the chance to journey to another world. “All her life long, and though she never knew quite why, she’d known there a was a land beyond the sky. She’d wondered how to get to it and what it was like” (17).
I didn’t like that there are many dimensions of the book left unexplained. However, this is probably just my desire to want to know the significance of everything, and actually, Fisk’s leaving many aspects open-ended probably makes for good discussion of this book with a reading group.
This is an excellent work of fantasy that I highly recommend, and I am surprised this work of Fisk’s is not more well-known.