I am a big fan of Glee and Chris Colfer has been one of my favorite actors on the series since the beginning. When I read that his novel had been acquired by Little, Brown I was excited but a bit apprehensive. See, I’m not a fan of celebrities who “write” books. Now, these are usually picture books or novelty gimmicks, so I was hopeful that Colfer’s book would be the real deal. Come on, how many celebrities are sitting down to write a full-length middle grade fantasy novel?
When I attended BEA this past May, I saw that Chris Colfer would be signing copies of his ARC the morning I was scheduled to be there. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I have very little patience. I do not wait on lines very often. I definitely don’t wait on what will no doubt be a ridiculous line for a celebrity. But I made an exception for Chris Colfer. He seems ridiculously sweet in interviews and I was intrigued by the premise of The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell. So, I waited. For over an hour. (Sidenote: The publicists at the Little, Brown booth at BEA were absolute saints and handled the crowd really well!).
Finally, it was my turn. Colfer signed my ARC and I told him I was looking forward to reading it. I explained that I usually avoid celebrity books but that he had me convinced. He stopped signing for a moment and looked up. “I hope you like it! I mean, no pressure. You don’t have to like it. But I really hope you do enjoy it!”. With that, I was sold. I shuffled off with my ARC and tote bag in tow, and eventually headed back home. I finished reading The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell late last week and I really enjoyed it!
Colfer says that he started writing the book when he was ten years old. Then he put it aside and came back to it when he felt he could do it justice. At the ancient age of 22, he has now published The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell. I love that the ARC is dedicated to his grandmother, who told him he shouldn’t worry about being a failed writer until he was a grown-up. :)
The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell is about a pair of twelve-year old twins named Alex and Connor. Their father , who owned a bookstore, recently died in an accident and their mother has been forced to sell their house and work extra shifts to make ends meet. The twins are doing their best, but it’s hard to have your life yanked out from underneath you like an old rug. Alex is an over-achiever and the teacher’s pet at school. Connor is the kid in the back of the classroom who falls asleep or makes everyone else laugh. But while they are different, they turn to each other for comfort while their mom is focused on taking care of the bigger picture. But everything changes when their grandmother gives Alex The Land of Stories on their birthday. Their father and grandmother read to them from the book until his death so it is a treasured heirloom.
But then things get very weird. Alex stops paying attention in school, she stops knowing the answer when called on, and then she falls asleep in class! Connor becomes suspicious and spies on her late one night. What the twins discover changes their lives forever. The Land of Stories envelops them and they literally fall into the world they grew up hearing about. But instead of being told stories, they are meeting the characters their father and grandmother shared with them. From Little Red Riding Hood, to Jack, to Goldilocks, to Prince Charming, they are all alive and well in the Land of Stories.
Colfer has taken on the task of retelling classic fairy tales. While it seems like it has been done to death, I found myself not wanting to put the book down. Familiar fairy tale characters have continued to live in the Land of Stories and their lives are a bit soap opera-esque. But we also learn a lot more about each character and their motivations. Cinderella is married and pregnant. Goldilocks in experiencing the heartbreak of unrequited love. Goldilocks is running from the law. And Snow White is trying to deal with the repercussions of the Evil Queen’s decisions.
I was pleasantly surprised by Colfer’s writing. Alex and Connor might be some of my favorite middle grade characters because they ring so true. Their individual personalities are spot on and their interactions with each other remind me a lot of the middle schoolers I used to teach. Connor was my favorite and I found myself laughing out loud at him because he is such a cut-up. But at the same time his insecurity is apparent. The siblings are close, but not in a way that is unbelievable. They argue, Alex is sometimes a know-it-all, and Connor tends to take things to the extreme. Both kids grow and change throughout the story in realistic ways. Colfer has a great grasp on characterization, so even the villains are relatable.
This is a great quest story for middle grade readers. They will enjoy the familiarity of the fairy tale characters but will also be drawn into the more significant details that Colfer weaves into the narrative. The story is a bit predictable, but I’m also an adult reader, not a middle grade reader. I think 8-12 year olds will enjoy this a lot, and the Glee connection should help with handselling.
The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell is a solid debut and I look forward to reading more books by Chris Colfer in the future.
*ARC courtesy of the publisher