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From the Hardcover edition.
Daniel's life in a small town in the middle of nowhere is marred only by the occasional trouble brought on by the fact that he cannot tell a lie—at least until the arrival of a strange girl named Emily and a battered group of soldiers who barge into town claiming only to need food and shelter. As Daniel, his little brother, Wesley, and Emily become friends, they discover that the soldiers are up to no good. When Emily's grandmother disappears, the friends determine that she has gone to the magical island located nearby, an island that all of the townspeople can see yet none can ever reach. The three friends follow an ancient map to find her.While the characters are interesting and likable, the setting and plot are much too vague to be engaging. Readers understand that there is some kind of political turmoil that has resulted in a series of skirmishes called the Uncertainties, but which side is which and what is at stake is left unclear. Readers also learn that Emily and her family have powers that help protect the town and are somehow connected to the magical island (which is, perhaps, where people go, at least temporarily, when they die, or not). But how these powers, the town, the island and the military skirmishes all fit together remains a mystery. Perplexing. (Fantasy. 8-12)
The next morning, after his chores, Daniel hurried out of the house, jumping down the two stone slabs to the yard. The day was already hot, but it was better than being inside. Reaching the road, he ran into his next-door neighbor, a big tattooed man named Fish, who despite his name raised chickens. “You notice we been getting a lot of strangers lately?” Fish said. He folded his bare arms, covering the coiled snake on his biceps.
“Yesterday,” the boy answered quickly, anxious to get on, “we passed some on the road.”
“Well,” said Fish, nodding, “looks like we got some more.”
Far up the road, a dark spot rippled in the heat waves. As they watched, the spot grew larger and separated into two spots, one taller than the other.
“Do you know them?” said Daniel.
“Hard to say.”
The larger spot elongated into a man. As he came closer, they could see he was not much over thirty, but he didn’t move young. His hat was dented in the wrong places, and his suitcase pulled him sideways, putting him off his stride. Beside him walked a girl, Daniel’s age or a little less, swinging a cloth bag bulging with belongings. Dirty to begin with, she scuffled up clouds of dust with her sandals.
Fish called up to his wife, Min, but it was John Crowley who came out. He still had a few minutes before he had to leave for the store.
“Take a look,” said Fish. “Isn’t that Stecher?”
Crowley ducked back in to grab a couple of apples from the bin behind the door and a jar of water from the sink. He stood holding them as the strange pair approached.
“Morning, Arthur,” he said. “Long time.”
The man put down the suitcase and touched his hat brim. He cast his eye around. “I see nothing’s changed in Never Good.” His voice was thin and had a catch to it.
“Yes, Everwood is always the same,” said Crowley, “and we like it well enough.”
The man’s pale lashes blinked. “Well, it was always Never Good to me.”
“I’m thinking you and your daughter could use a drink of water,” Crowley said. He threw a smile at the girl, but she didn’t catch it. She was looking at her feet.
The man took the jar. Daniel watched, waiting for the thank-you, but it didn’t come. “Ain’t no daughter.”
“Oh?” said Crowley.
The stranger tilted back the jar, took a long drink, then removed his hat and poured the rest over his head. The caked dirt turned to muddy rivulets and dripped from his chin.
Everyone stared at him, even the girl.
“Where you headed?” said Crowley.
“Old lady Byrdsong.”
Crowley looked at him narrowly. “What do you want with Mrs. Byrdsong?”
The man didn’t meet his eyes. Daniel realized he hadn’t met anyone’s eyes the whole time.
“I said what do you want with her?”
The man nodded toward the girl. “I’m to leave this one with her.”
“And why is that?”
“It’s her grandma.”
Daniel glanced from his dad to the miserable-looking girl. The thing she was dressed in might once have been nice, before it was torn under one arm, soaked by rain, and coated in dust. Was she really Bridey Byrdsong’s granddaughter? Everybody knew Bridey was dotty. Also, she was a witch. A good one, probably, but still.
From the Hardcover edition.