Before Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander, won the National Book Award in 2012 for Young People’s Literature, it was pretty hard to find. I tried the library and local bookstore, but no copies were (or ever had been) in stock. I finally found a copy in the Minneapolis airport a few days after the awards were announced. I was hoping for a fantastic story, terrific characters, emotional depth, or astonishing writing. In that sense, I was disappointed. I never came across any of those things. Instead, I found the characters to be confusingly flat, the book to be disappointingly short, and the universe that Alexander creates to have a faint shimmer rather than a solid mass. Rather than give it a so-so review, I decided to bring in an ‘expert’ on middle grade fiction, since I don’t read a ton of it myself. My ‘expert’ prefers to remain anonymous, even though I have raised her from infancy. At eleven years old she reads constantly; everything from horses to Harry Potter, Nancy Drew to Narnia. While on a long road trip recently, we collaborated on the following interview:
Q: What is Goblin Secrets about?
A: Goblin Secrets is about a young boy named Rownie whose brother used to be an actor and now Rownie finds goblins that teach him theater. Rownie has searched his whole life for his brother, Rowan, and finally finds him turned into a puppet. Rownie takes Rowan to the Goblins and tries to save him.
Q: Where does the book take place?
A: Goblin Secrets takes place in the world of Zombay. It is different from the real world because it has goblins and some of the characters, like the guards, are half mechanical.
Q: What did you like about the book?
A: I liked reading about the plays and the different masks the goblins talked about.
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 (ten being the best), how would you rate this book?
A: I would give it a 7.
Q: Was there anything about this book that you didn’t like?
A: I think there should be a sequel.
So there you have it- I just wasn’t in the target age group for this work, apparently. And, lucky for eleven year olds across the land, there will be a sequel (of sorts). It will be released in 2013, and is still untitled. According to Alexander, it parallels the story in Goblin Secrets, sharing the same setting and borrowing a few characters. In fact, he says, you can see one book happening in the background of the other.
Congratulations to Alexander on winning the National Book Award on his first novel!