Reading level: Juvenile Fiction, ages 9+
Paperback: 126 pages
Publisher: Tafelberg; 1 edition (July 20, 2013)
Arabella lives with her mom and dad in Parkview, Johannesburg. She has a happy, stable life, with all the love anyone could imagine from her parents and (four!) grandparents. Her eleventh birthday is the turning point in her life. She receives some unusual gifts, which change Arabella’s life forever. But then things go horribly wrong. Her dad dies, and life turns dark, bleak, and hopeless. Thanks to her unusual birthday gifts, Arabella discovers a magical world at the bottom of her garden and amazing things happen. She is able to speak to the animals there, and discovers she has a special role to play once she is given a magic Mongongo nut by Khanyi, the mealie lady. Suddenly, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary and Arabella and her new friends must battle against the evil hadedas, led by their nasty king, Ozymandias, who has a wicked plan. At the same time, Arabella finds hope in the Book of Echoes; hope that with this new-found magic, she can turn back the clock to the happy times before her dad died. Is the magic this strong? Can Arabella defeat the hadedas’ nefarious plans?
This is a charming book that young South African readers will relish. Names, places, creatures, and cultural references will resonate with readers, bringing this adventure right into their own back gardens.
Arabella faces enormous challenges, and the biggest one is within. As the use of magic changes her, perhaps bringing out selfish desires, she has to learn to do what is right. Acceptance of grief is very difficult for a young person, and this is one of Arabella’s saddest tests. Self-sacrifice, loyalty, the meaning of friendship, and doing the right thing are also highlighted as Arabella’s final choice will sway the outcome of the battle.
Author Hamilton Wende has perfectly captured Arabella’s character, giving poignant insight into just how difficult life choices are at that age. The hadedas are brilliantly malevolent … but fun! Lovely atmospherics abound, painting the most incredible pictures for a young imagination to enjoy. The author has a real gift for scenarios and I am sure this book will linger in readers’ minds long after the last page has been read.
I would suggest a glossary at the back for non South African readers to understand several local terms. I must mention the superb cover by Rob Foote which adds to the ethereal, magical quality of the book.