THE SILVER ARROW, by Lev Grossman, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Sept. 1, 2020, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 8-12)
Lev Grossman’s The Silver Arrow is one of the most imaginative and absorbing middle-grade books I’ve read in a long time.
Kate and her younger brother Tom lead dull, uninteresting lives. And if their dull, uninteresting parents are anything to go by, they don’t have much to look forward to. Why can’t Kate have thrilling adventures and save the world the way people do in books? Even her 11th birthday is shaping up to be mundane — that is, until her mysterious and highly irresponsible Uncle Herbert, whom she’s never even met before, surprises her with the most unexpected, exhilarating, inappropriate birthday present of all time: a colossal steam locomotive called the Silver Arrow.
Kate and Tom’s parents want to send it right back where it came from. But Kate and Tom have other ideas — and so does the Silver Arrow — and soon they’re off to distant lands along magical rail lines in the company of an assortment of exotic animals who, it turns out, can talk. With only curiosity, excitement, their own resourcefulness and the thrill of the unknown to guide them, Kate and Tom are on the adventure of a lifetime . . . and who knows? They just might end up saving the world after all. —Synopsis provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
The Silver Arrow is written in the tradition of the C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia or Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. It’s an adventure where the children are unexpected heroes who do much more than would ever normally be expected of them.
At the center of the story is Kate, who at first, believes her birthday gift is much more than she wished for. It’s only later that she realizes she got exactly what she needed. Kate and Tom are taken away from the world of phones and video games to a place where they are expected to not only learn, but make choices that will affect more than themselves.
Kate is a strong protagonist whose curiosity and lust for adventure make her someone to root for. Tom and a number of animals are less-fleshed-out, but important supporting characters that enrich the story.
As The Silver Arrow unfolds, it becomes clear that the animals Kate and Tom are transporting aren’t traveling for just any old reason. It adds a greater purpose to the siblings’ mission and encourages readers to apply what they’ve just learned to their own lives.
I read The Silver Arrow in one sitting. It was fantastic. It’s feels timeless and immediate all at once. And though it’s a great standalone, there’s definitely room for more books in this world.
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