This book is a strange combination of The Wizard of Oz (escaping from home), Labyrinth (I hate my baby brother), and The Chronicles of Narnia (going into another world with kings and monsters). You'd think it was more of a child oriented book seeing that the main character is a 12-year-old boy and he's so heavily into fairy tales however, you'd be wrong.
The setting is in World War England and much like the true war, it seems to creep it's way into everyones lives- including the other world. David is angry and hurt- his mother died and his father has moved on. He feels that his father doesn't love him anymore, that he's forgetting about his mother, and forgetting about David as well. When he has the opportunity to crawl into the cracks of a garden wall and appear to be crawling out of a tree to another world he stumbles his way into an adventure that he hadn't quite been expecting.
The world he comes upon is being twisted and turned into a strange place that even it's inhabitants don't recognize. David comes upon a cast of different characters who seem to be straight from a fairy tale except even the fairy tales have twisted and turned into something horrible. Snow White isn't fair and beautiful, Little Red Riding Hood has a sexual attraction to wolves, Sleeping Beauty is a terrible creature in itself.
David learns that there are people he can and cannot trust. Despite being in another land David also begins to grow. Really, this tale is about a child passing into adulthood and that childish might have a darker history to it. David enters this world as a frightened but angry child and he proceeds to learn what is important in life and what is not. That there are people out there who might, for instance, love the same sex but that does not make them any less human. It doesn't mean they're out to get him. He also learns to yearn for the family life he now has and finally stop grieving for his dead mother.
The story is gruesome at some points. A monster "She" is, in my opinion, really well described because the mental image I had was incredibly disgusting. While David is this character who more or less falls into the pages of your book John Connolly manages to do the same to you as you read the book and fall into it's own pages. Being in that land is easy to do as you read further and it's not really a land I'd never want to be in. But the characters are engaging and all I wanted was to know where the tale left them.
I was somewhat sad at the end of the book. It's not a fluffy story with a sparkling ending but life, in general, is not that way and Connolly makes that clear to David and the reader. I felt settled, content, with the end of the book as I do believe David felt as well.
This is by far one of the most strange books I've ever read. But I enjoyed reading it and found it hard to pull myself away from it's pages. Connolly, as I mentioned, wrote the scenery, characters, and tales so clearly that it was easy to imagine. The story is capturing and I do believe everyone can relate to it in one way or another. Whether you found yourself escaping the world through books or maybe you wanted to run away from home because you felt your family was wronging you- or both. It's something every child has experienced at one time or another.
Out of a possible five stars- I give it four.