The National Book awards came and went, and the winner for Juvenile fiction was this little story. Round House won for best overall fiction novel, which I still intend to read but coming back from a recent trip I just didn’t want to dive into it just yet. It looks a little deep. Instead, I tried this fairy tale about Goblins because it looked to be a quick read, a little over 250 pages, and I only had so much time on the plane ride.
First of all, this was a kid’s story deserving of the award. It doesn’t have the breadth and scope of the Harry Potter series, but the writing is fantastic. This is a story you can read aloud to your kids. I find reading certain books to my kid a chore. Have you ever tried to read The Phantom Tollbooth out loud? Good book but not meant for audio. Some stories are left to the imagination while Goblin Secrets feels lyrics meant to be recited by a choir. Simple in tone but the imagery is fantastic.
The story takes place in the town of Zombay and there are three factions at play between the witch named Graba, the king, and the Goblins. The witch has clockwork chicken legs, moves her house around, and takes in orphans. She is powerful and menacing and has her own interests at heart. The story centers around Rownie, the youngest boy in the witch’s household. Rownie has an older brother (Rowan) that is too old to stay in the witch’s house. The witch kicks all the orphans out at age sixteen, separating the two brothers. Upon leaving the witch’s house, Rowan becomes an actor while trying to make it on his own. But acting is outlawed in the land of Zombay and he mysteriously disappears.
Desperate to find him, Rownie joins up with a troupe of Goblins in search of his brother. The stakes are raised as everyone in town is desperate to find Rowan. He might be on the only person alive that can save the town from the mighty river that is threatening to destroy everyone.
The book is accessible while taking a look at love, loss, and what it means to be part of a family. Toward the end, there was a passage that still sticks with me, “He felt his anger drain away. He didn’t want to let it go. He fought to keep it. Anger kept him moving. It kept him warm. But now words fell out of his mouth like cold pebbles.” The twist at this point in the story made Rownie’s quest all the more meaningful. For some, this story may not be as epic as Potter or deserving of a long series, but it’s a great fairy tale that is a quick read. And it’s good for young readers.