Orphans Kate, Michael, and Emma have been tossed from orphanage to orphanage their entire lives. Their latest destination is a huge, creepy castle-like mansion in the mountains (mountains they don’t remember to have existed), owned by a mysterious Dr. Pym. Bored one day after realizing they are the only children there, the siblings begin to explore and stumble across an old laboratory where they find a beautiful book with a green cover. But this is no ordinary book; this book allows them to travel back and forth through time with the assistance of photographs. Thus begins John Stephens’s amazing adventure story The Emerald Atlas, which was released on April 5th, 2011.
This book was a really nice read, and a refreshing break from the teenage angst that is present in most of the YA books out right now. The focus of this book was adventure, and it nailed it. These kids get tossed back in time to the same place, but things are so very different from the mansion of their time that they don’t even know where to begin to figure out how to get home. As if that wasn’t enough for a couple of kids to deal with, an evil woman is controlling the town, kidnapping children and forcing their fathers to work for her, digging in mines. She’s looking for something, and if you think about it, you’ll figure out what it is. There are dilemmas left and right, and the tension keeps building well throughout the entire story. The book is written in third person, so it allows the main characters to split up from time to time while continuing the story, which worked really well for the progression of the narration of this tale.
This is a difficult book to categorize age-wise, in my opinion. The characters and the ideas fit well with middle-grade, but sometimes Stephens’s descriptions and language are a bit advanced for the average reader in that age range. So it was an interesting feeling, having both of those elements as I read. They occasionally seemed to war with each other, and that was slightly jarring. But honestly, that is the only negative thing I can find about the book. The character development, family values, mystery, magic, and of course adventure were so well-done that it balanced out any arrhythmic elements. I had to keep reading. I wanted to know what the real purpose of the story was.
The strongest story point though was the dynamic of the children and their missing parents. Kate, being the oldest at 14, remembers when her mom kissed her goodbye ten years prior, before telling her to look out for her siblings and disappearing from their life. They all cling to the hope that their parents will return, and the way this storyline is handled in the book is excellent. I feel for the kids, and I was completely captivated by the mystery surrounding the parents’ disappearance. There weren’t a lot of those questions answered in this book, so I’ll definitely be waiting to get my hands on the next book in the series.
If you like the occasional (or not-so-occasional!) adventure-based book, this is a great one to snatch up. There is magic and great human relationships mixed in with the adversities the siblings face, making this a well-rounded story that was a fun read.