Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Be careful what you wish for… All Sales Final

All Sales Final, by Sarah S. Reida, (Apr. 2020, Warrior Press), $10.99, ISBN: 978-1-7348170-1-0

Ages 9-13

It’s 1956 in Longford, Illinois, and 11-year-old Anna is tired of being ordinary. Her brother is good at sports and her sister is good at school, but Anna doesn’t think she’s got anything that makes her stand out. That changes when she discovers a strange little shop in town one day. Simply called “Shop”, she wanders in and meets owners Ruth and Vernon, an older couple who call themselves “keepers” and always seem to have whatever a customer most needs at the moment. Anna glimpses a mirror in the shop that seems to reflect what each customer truly wants, and Ruth is delighted that Anna seems to share their gift for “reading”. Ruth offers Anna a job as a shopgirl, and takes the girl under her wing, and Anna finally feels special. But she becomes quickly obsessed with the store, affecting her friendship with her best friend, Carrie; she also notices some changes affecting the town: a beloved teacher turns her back on her students; a store burns down; Anna notices her own sister’s schoolwork suffering. As Ruth pushes Anna to make a difficult life decision, Anna realizes that Ruth isn’t the kindly old storekeeper and mentor she thought she was, and she needs to find a magical solution to save her town and herself.

I loved All Sales Final. Think of it as a Needful Things for middle grade, and you have a good idea of what you’re about to read. Ruth is a warm, cuddly character with a touch of the sinister; Anna is relatable as an ordinary kid who longs to be more: it’s a powerful combination when the two elements come together. Secondary characters are all well-written, having their own backstories and minor subplots, giving nice depth to the story. The “be careful what you wish for” message is strong and speaks to readers on a level they’ll appreciate, and delivering it in a fantastic context makes it a page-turning read. The post-World War II setting strips a lot of technology away, making characters work for a solution and making readers think about how they would cope in a fantasy world that is grounded in the reality of the day: you have magic mirrors, but no ability to text or Google. You have to work for solutions!

Love the character development, love the backstory, love the book. It’s a must for fantasy readers, especially dark fantasy fans who loved books like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline or Holly Black’s Doll Bones. If you haven’t read Sarah Reida’s 2016 book, Monsterville, add that to your pile, too. It’s sorely underrated, and has more great interplay between characters set in a spooky setting.

All Sales Final has a starred review from Kirkus, and is available from libraries and on Kindle for only $2.99!

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Can you escape Monsterville?

monstervilleMonsterville: A Lissa Black Production, by Sarah S. Reida, (Sept. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510707337

Recommended for readers 9-13

Jumanji meets Goosebumps in this fun and unexpectedly touching novel. Lissa Black is not happy with her family’s decision to move out of their Manhattan apartment to a house in Freeburg, Pennsylvania, inherited when her great-aunt passes away. She’s away from her friends, her school, and the conveniences of living in New York City; she’s only got the neighbor kid, Adam, who’s set on making her appreciate life outside of the city, and this weird game, Monsterville, that she found in her aunt’s basement. Just as Lissa is set on languishing in the wilds of PA, she discovers a sad, shape-shifting goblin she calls Blue, who’s escaped from Down Under. Blue’s so sad that Lissa and Adam feed him and check in on him, but when Lissa discovers he can shape-shift, she decides to make a documentary starring Blue. But an interview with the goblin uncovers secrets that put Lissa’s family at risk. When her little sister is kidnapped and taken Down Under on Halloween, Lissa and Adam have to go in after her, and the Monsterville game is their only hope of making it back.

Lissa is hard to like at first: she’s a great older sister, but largely self-centered and snobbish at the novel’s outset. As the story progresses, and the urgency not only of Blue’s situation, but her sister’s, hits home, though, Lissa rises to the occasion and grows into a strong female character that I was rooting for. I liked her supportive, loving family and I really liked the glimpse we got of her mysterious aunt. I think a Monsterville prequel is in order, to tell her story! There was great world-building Up Above and Down Below, with Adam acting as Lissa’s – and the reader’s – guide to rural life, and the Monsterville game laying out Down Below for us before we even get there. I ended up loving this book and can’t wait to booktalk this. A film glossary at the end introduces readers to film terms, most of which show up in Monsterville – Lissa is a filmmaker, after all.

Challenge your readers to make up their own version of Monsterville! What monsters would inhabit their Down Under? What would counteract the monsters and help humans escape? This could be a great summer reading group program, just saying…

Monsterville is Sarah S. Reida’s debut novel. Find teacher resources at LissaBlackProductions.com, which also links to Sarah’s author blog and appearances.