When I read the dust jacket blurp written by none other than the renowned Stephanie Meyer of Twilight series fame, I still bought it against my better judgement, and I'm glad I did. She called it the "oddest/sweetest mix of Little House on the Prairie and X-Men." Not being a big fan of Meyer's series, the Little House books, or X-Men, I wasn't expecting much from this. What a pleasant surprise it was to open it up and find that Victoria Forester is a writer with a keen grasp on character voice, plot, and pacing.
The protagonist, Piper McCloud, is a genuinely likable character whose suffering was difficult to read primarily because I really wanted things to work for her so badly. It was a compelling read. There were times when I wanted to put it down and attempt to forget that I'd ever read the first page, but I think that's the sign of a book that refuses to waver from authentic storytelling. Sometimes a story can get ugly and the suffering can get hard to read. However, that's not what made the book so enjoyable. This book's greatest strength is its supporting cast. Although most children's books leave you with a clear opinion about the characters, Forester makes it difficult to form a clear opinion on hers.
She writes in flaws that leave you wondering whether anyone (aside from Piper) is truly good or bad. The two characters that typify this are Betty McCloud and Conrad Harrington III. Neither one is really a bad person and in many ways they are Piper's strongest allies at different times during the story, but they both exhibit character flaws that make them simultaneously infuriating.
There were times when I was hoping to read that someone had pushed Conrad off a tower and watched him go splat on the floor below, and I have to say that finding out that he was actually plotting an escape from that school hardly affected my opinion of him. If it hadn't been for the miserable treatment he'd received from his parents and the deceit of Letitia Hellion, Conrad would have been irredeemably evil. Though I suppose someone could just as easily argue that without those two issues Conrad would probably have been a much different person. I guess that's all part of the intrigue.
Betty McCloud is simultaneously all that is wrong with excessively traditional conservative life and all that is right with it. She doesn't condone anything that hasn't always been done and goes so far as to alienate herself from her own daughter. Yet, she is acting from what seems to be the best intention. She believes that she is doing what is best at all times. Her limited worldview defines her character, and her gradual growth is spawned from the broadening of her worldly knowledge. Her disapproval of flying spawns Piper's shame of her own gift and all the calamity that follows grows out of that. Anyone might argue that Betty's disapproval is representative of the town she lives in and that even if Betty approved, the town still would have caused just as much of an issue. What can I say? It's food for thought.
Either way, this is definitely worth the read. There's another book on the way too. It'd be impossible to deny it. The ending did everything short of offer a preview chapter with the next title. When it does come, I'll be ready for it. I just hope it lives up to the first one.