Today’s book review is for Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee, with illustrations by Yoko Tanaka, published by Random House. It is scheduled for release on January 28, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the published, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
In this beautiful retelling of “The Snow Queen” we meet unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard, who only believes in things that can be explained by science. She’s a bright, asthmatic girl who has recently lost her mother. When her father is requested to set up a special sword exhibit at a museum, he brings Ophelia and her older sister, Alice, along with him–with the hope that a Christmas vacation to a beautiful city will provide the whole family with a distraction from their loss. While exploring the museum, Ophelia discovers a hidden doorway, behind which a boy is imprisoned. As she works to rescue him, she must reconcile her beliefs with the fanciful stories the boy tells her and the strange things she begins to see in the museum. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a modern day fairy tale that explores themes of friendship, courage, love, and never giving up.
I loved the protagonist, Ophelia. She felt like such a real character, with an authentic personality. She has so much curiosity, but it’s tempered by both skepticism and fear. A lot of young people are still open to the possibilities of things that can’t be explained–but not Ophelia. She’s already joined the Children’s Science Society. Even when presented with things she can’t explain, she tries to convince herself that she’s not witnessing magic. I also liked how the recent loss of her mother impacted her. It added a nice dynamic to the story.
I also enjoyed the narrative structure with its story-within-a-story framework. The shift between the present day of our world and the story of the Marvelous Boy’s journey kept things interesting. In particular, I liked that the Boy’s story wasn’t revealed all at once–but rather unfolded as his friendship with Ophelia developed. At the same time, the pieces are long enough that you can get caught up in it. It creates a pacing that alternates between the pressure of deadline facing Ophelia and the many years of the Boy’s journey.
The museum setting was perfect. Museums already have a feeling of mystery. Some are so vast as to feel like mazes, and it’s easy to imagine getting lost in one, even if it wasn’t magical. It also provided a mirror to the intellectual conflict of Ophelia. A museum is usually a place of science, learning, and rational thought–and yet this one contains things that cannot be explained by logic.
If you’re looking for an engaging fantasy novel that’s perfect for late elementary or middle grade readers, look no further. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is an excellent way to fight off cabin fever this February. I’m giving it an enthusiastic 5 stars for the way that it explores family relationships, friendship, and self-discovery all within the vehicle of a modern fairy tale.
You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.