Saturday, 9 November 2013

Review: Spirit Animals, Book One, Wild Born by Brandon Mull

I'm sure this book series is going to be the next big thing in middle grade/YA fiction. Each book in the series, published by Scholastic, will be written by different authors who will inject their brilliance into each book, spinning a new and exciting tale every time. The first book is written by Brandon Mull. Get ready for the second book, which is sure to be amazing by the one-and-only Maggie Stiefvater!

I will come right out and admit that I was hesitant with this book. The title alone was enough to make me grimace. In my head, I was worried I was going to have to read a story about kids who turned into animals or a less intense version of something like having an animal soul like in The Golden Compass. What I did not expect was the story to have a real reason behind one's ability to have a spirit animal. I like the thought put into how you get a spirit animal. I also like the fact that not everyone gets one. This is not a world where every kid at the age of 11 gets a spirit animal.

To be able to "produce" a spirit animal, children at the age of 11 drink a special nectar. If they are chosen, an animal will appear out of the sky in a dramatic and awe-inspiring way, in front of the entire community. The animals radiate power. They are independent and must have their trust earned by their respective humans. The four creatures you see on the cover are four of the "Great Beasts"--ancient spirit animals who were destroyed a long time ago, and have been "resurrected" by these four kids.

War is breaking out everywhere and these four kids, with the help of these ancient animals, can make all the difference. They set out on an epic adventure to train and hopefully to help save the world. This book is fast-moving, exciting, and full of danger and of the unexpected. The book is told from the alternating points of view of the characters, giving the reader the chance to identify with each of the characters and to experience their very different adventures as they learn to work with the animals.

Although the book is set in a mythological far off world, the kids deal with social issues that readers will certainly be able to identify with. Issues such as self-doubt, confidence, identity issues, loyalty, morality, learning to trust, learning to fit in, and learning to be a leader and to work with others are all prevalent.

Unlike many stories today of heroic children, I liked that this book does not ignore the importance of adults/parental figures. While the children must mature quickly and they have the fate of the world resting on their shoulders, the adults are present to guide them on their journey. The kids are learning to be heroes and survivors, but they do so under the watchful eyes of the adults who are very much needed. The kids are equal with the adults and are very important to the mission. Readers will enjoy the freedom, the adventures, and the necessity of the children's presence. Parents can appreciate that these fictional children need their parents/need adult guidance just as children do in reality. This is not a story of rebelliousness or carelessness.

I love how realistic and logical this seems--you can't just throw kids into the world and have them come out as invincible. What a refreshing take! These kids are given a lot of responsibility and have the freedom and independence all kids crave, but there are still adult protectors; there are still people to give guidance and to lend a hand.

I also noticed there is a diverse group of characters: a street-boy/orphan, the wealthy daughter of a military man, a palace servant, and a middle-class/youngest daughter. This book celebrates diversity, and I love that. Rich or poor, important or common, anyone can be a hero!

The characters are good role models for other kids. For example, when one of the heroes, Abeke, gets led astray, she must decide what is right and wrong--who is good and who is evil. From Abeke, readers can learn to trust their instincts. These children learn to sense right and wrong as they continue to develop their own moral compasses. Moreover, in this dystopian world, the characters make the decision to sacrifice personal happiness for the greater good, for their friends, for others' happiness. They learn to take the hard road, because it will lead to a better world. There's certainly a lot of good life lessons to be taken from these characters!

If all these good things are not enough to persuade you, the book is also an interactive online game! There's a code with each book to register and live the adventure yourself. Very cool! Embrace a kid's love of technology while ALSO getting them reading and off the computer. Brilliant!

Spirit Animals is everything in an adventure you've ever wanted and more. Fans of Animorphs and Pokemon will enjoy this story. The books are sure to be a huge success, particularly with boys who love fantasy/magic, and adventure stories, with a bit of [age-appropriate] danger and violence. Who knows... maybe we'll even see a TV series out of this? I honestly wouldn't be surprised.

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