The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey

The Ninja Librarians
The Ninja Librarians by Jennifer Swann Downey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My synopsis:

Homeschooled siblings Dorrie and Marcus accidentally discover a secret doorway to a hidden library full of warrior librarians where they have to prove themselves, help some new friends, learn some new skills, confront some paradoxes, and eventually find their way back to their own time and, with any luck, save the day.

This review copy came to me in a rather different way than the others I’ve reviewed. Last fall, I saw a note on one of my homeschool lists that Jen Downey had a new book coming out and was looking to have a review copy make a reading tour among the homeschooling community in several states. Excited to read a book from a fellow homeschooling mom, I responded immediately and said, “Yes! Please put me on your list!”

I got the book last week when a local homeschool mom delivered it to my driveway as my spouse and I were digging out from the first snowstorm of the new year. I probably should have tossed down my snow shovel and dug into the book right away, but I made myself finish City of God first. As soon as I’d finished my business with St. Augustine yesterday, I started reading The Ninja Librarians.

I’m always hesitant about reading review copies, unsure sometimes whether some of the continuity errors will be caught and corrected before the final version comes out and whether I should say anything about it when I review the book. But inevitably I take off my editor hat (although if anyone felt inspired to give me a job copyediting review copies, I would be all over that) and just settle into the book.

That’s what I did with Dorrie, Marcus, Ebba, and the rest of the gang, and it was phenomenally easy to do. The plot was intricate and satisfying, and most of the characters grew and developed over the course of the book, which doesn’t always happen with middle-grade children’s books.

The homeschool angle is subtle, but the love of learning comes through loud and clear; I recognize the piles and piles of books throughout the house all too well. As someone who routinely has dreams about spending the night in the library (the most recent was last month, and in it, the librarians caught me and forced me to enter a clinical trial for a new bug repellent, sending me home with an aquarium filled with scorpions, ticks, and wasps and a hope that I’d gotten the active compound), this book was a pleasure to read. It’s kind of a cross between my own dreams (minus the stinging bugs), From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Harry Potter.

Downey has done a beautiful job of weaving the story together, delivering believable—and likable—characters, and delivering a heart-pounding climax. Dorrie was the most well developed of the characters, followed by Elder and Savi. These were the characters whom I could see most clearly. Marcus and Ebba remained a bit flat; I would have liked to have had a little more about them. And the mean-girl nemeses in both Passaic and in Petrarch’s Library were pretty much just outlines, but that didn’t bother me too much. They served their purpose, and maybe we’ll get to know them better in future books.

I loved the element of Dorrie’s growing up when she realizes that modern, non-fictional baddies aren’t as clear-cut as they are in books. Much of her growth comes from accepting the nuances of life—although she gets out of a bit of this by getting a chance to travel through time and fight baddies while she’s learning these lessons.

If I’d not waited so long to pick up this book, I would have shared it with my eight-year-old daughter. I think she would have really enjoyed it. But, I’ve got to get it in the mail to the next person on the list. I’m holding up the works!

When this book comes out in April, I will definitely share it with my daughter. The Ninja Librarians isn’t just a good first novel; it’s just a good novel.

I’ll be watching for more from Downey about the Ninja Librarians of Passaic.

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