Friday, February 26, 2016

The Key to the Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd, 2016

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Everyone in Emma's family is special. Her ancestors include Revolutionary War spies, brilliant scientists, and famous musicians--every single one of which learned of their extraordinary destiny through a dream.
For Emma, her own dream can't come soon enough. Right before her mother died, Emma promised that she'd do whatever it took to fulfill her destiny, and she doesn't want to let her mother down.
But when Emma's dream finally arrives, it points her toward an impossible task--finding a legendary treasure hidden in her town's cemetery. If Emma fails, she'll let down generations of extraordinary ancestors . . . including her own mother. But how can she find something that's been missing for centuries and might be protected by a mysterious singing ghost?
With her signature blend of lyrical writing, quirky humor, and unforgettable characters, Natalie Lloyd's
The Key to Extraordinary cements her status as one of the most original voices writing for children today.
(240 pages)

This is a really great book.

And I'm surprised by that, because I was expecting a good book, not a really great one. You see, I'm one of the very few people who didn't fall completely in love with the author's debut, A Snicker of Magic. I'd seen a lot of potential in Snicker, though, so I was excited to see what she came up with once she got going.

I just didn't expect her to get going so fast. Wow oh wow, is this a good book. I can't quite put it into words, but everything just comes together in a way that is really satisfying to read. Even though on paper the basic premise of Emma's story is kind of kitschy, it never feels that way - instead it feels meaningful and emotional and real. I devoured The Key to the Extraordinary in a single sitting, and I didn't just set it aside and forget about it when I was done, either. The story and its characters have stuck in my brain in the weeks since I read itand I find myself pausing to think about them every once in a while. I'm definitely going to re-read it in the future, too - because I really, truly will enjoy rediscovering it once I've forgotten the details that make it special.

I think what makes The Key to the Extraordinary so appealing is how deep and meaningful it is. This isn't just a fluffy book; Emma's dealing with the hole in her heart (the "Big Empty") that her mother's death left. She's also struggling with the fact that her grandmother, Blue, is considering selling their bakery because she can't afford to run it any longer, and questioning her own special purpose in the world as she awaits her very own magical Destiny Dream. Around Emma, others are struggling to deal with various things as well. My favorite of the secondary characters (though he's major enough I'd really call him a main character) is Earl, who hasn't spoken a word since he was stuck outside during a fierce tornado the year before. I just want to reach into the book and give him a big hug, and tell him everything's going to be okay.

I will footnote my endless praise of The Key to the Extraordinary with this: it's not the best book I've ever read. The ending isn't entirely believable (and no, I'm not just talking about the fantasy elements!), and the conclusion to the mystery isn't as exciting as I'd hoped it would be. It's still plenty thrilling (and very surprising!), so I'm really not complaining too loudly, but I just thought I'd throw these thoughts out there so I'm at least pretending to be presenting a balanced review. I'm not really, though, because I really really loved this book and I totally think you should go read it.

So, yeah. Go read it please. And then come back and tell me your thoughts.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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