Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
On his first time out as author, children's book editor Holch packs this allegorical tale with plenty of far-out flights of fancy. A typical underachiever, 11-year-old Newton Bellnap hates to read and fears change, which is a problem because his actor parents keep moving the family around. Facing a predictable spring vacation in yet another new town, Newton discovers that Angel Falls offers more mysteries than he can handle. Add to these his blossoming friendship with Vanessa, an iconoclastic classmate, and the mystifying annual migration of thousands of Emerald Rainbow butterflies, and Newton's break turns into an existential quest for the meaning of life. Holch counteracts Newton's somewhat annoying passivity with Vanessa's likable brashness, and keeps the pace going at a clip by adding layers of curiosities (a mysterious man in a black hat; an illness affecting all of Newton's classmates). Some readers may feel overwhelmed by the scattered threads and find the philosophy heavy-handed (famous quotations and cryptic messages break in throughout). And the miraculous changes in Newton (who becomes a reader) and Vanessa (who is reconciled to her depressed widower father) at the book's close are a bit pat. Nevertheless, this book will appeal to those who like their fantasy thick and deep. Ages 10-13. (May)
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
Children's book editor Holch's first novel is an attempt at fantasy filled with many nods to the classics. When Vanessa turns into a giant caterpillar on her twelfth birthday, her friend Newton must feed and nurse her through the pupa stage until she emerges from her cocoon as a flying butterfly. With the flightless Newton in tow, the two then set about solving the mystery which envelops their town of Angel Falls, all the while fleeing the strange lepidopterist who pursues them. Lots of butterfly lore is discussed in the process.
VOYA - Libby Bergstrom
Newton Bellnap does not like change, and things are definitely changing in Angel Falls. Soon after he sees the first Emerald Rainbow butterfly of spring, he meets Vanessa Zephyr, who enlists his help in discovering what has happened to her best friend, Ruth Ann. Together they learn the secret of Angel Falls: once a generation, the tree that attracts the butterflies bears fruit. Anyone eating that fruit will transform like a butterfly, grow wings, and be able to fly. Some adults, fearful of the changes, plan to protect their children and destroy the tree. Their valiant effort to save the tree leads Vanessa to rebuild her relationship with her father and Newton to discover courage he did not know he had. In the end, though the tree is destroyed, Newton plants seeds from the tree and there is hope that the secret of Angel Falls will continue. This contemporary fantasy has obvious symbolism, such as the fact that when the children become caterpillars they cannot transform further unless they eat books for nourishment. However, Holch avoids didacticism and lets readers delight in his creative story. Lighter and more whimsical than the works of Madeleine L'Engle and T. A. Barron, this will be enjoyed by fans of these authors. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Will appeal with pushing, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8).
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 5-8Holch's first novel is full of mystery and excitement. Newton Bellnap, 11, may be new to Angel Falls, but he knows to look for the Emerald Rainbow butterflies in the spring. Millions of these beautiful insects mysteriously appear, stay for one week, and then continue their long migration north. As Newton watches them arrive during his April vacation, other mysterious things begin to happen. He and classmate Vanessa Zephyr discover that her best friend has disappeared. A weird scientist follows them everywhere and warns them not to go into the woods. Meanwhile, Vanessa is obsessed with being able to fly. When the friends find an ancient tree that attracts the butterflies, she takes a bite of its fruit and makes a surprising metamorphosis of her own. Newton and Vanessa are realistic and believable heroes. While the novel is slow to start, it is full of twists, turns, and suspenseful subplots. Other story lines include the relationship between Vanessa and her father and the difficulties involved in facing changes. Readers will also learn about the stages of butterfly development and will be fascinated when the girl's dream of flying becomes a reality. With its brief chapters, this book would be a terrific read-aloud or a good choice for group discussion. Pair it with Lynne Reid Banks's Fairy Rebel (Doubleday, 1988) for hearty fantasy stories about winged creatures.Kimberlie Baker, Lucius Beebe Memorial Library, Wakefield, MA
Horn Book Magazine
When Newton gets bonked on the head by an apple dropped from a tree by his impetuous classmate Vanessa, gravity is the least of his reali-zations; instead, the two kids embark on an adventure that leads them to fly. Unlike the high fantasy dramas we've seen so much of lately, this first novel hearkens back to Langton's The Fledgling and further back to Nesbit (both authors are acknowledged explicitly, as major players in Vanessa's beloved children's book collection). As Vanessa and Newton explore the mysteries of the Emerald Rainbow butterfly, a species that returns to their town year after year, they uncover many secrets-about the butterflies, the town, and themselves. Narratively and thematically, the book culminates in Vanessa's transformation into a human version of a butterfly, a "thing with wings." Newton gradually, eventually gamely, goes along for the ride (literally, when the winged Vanessa takes him flying), and at the end finds himself with the seeds (again, literally) for the salvation of both town and butterflies in his hands. Although the story gets didactic toward the end, the writing is deft and light for most of the novel, and allusions to Eden (a life-giving garden, a Tree) and Eliot (Vanessa dares Newton to eat what they think is a peach) are wittily made.
The characters soar in this thoroughly metaphorical fantasy from newcomer Holch. Tracking the millions of Emerald Rainbow butterflies that migrate each year through the small town of Angel Falls, young Newton and his new friend, Vanessa, find a walled garden containing portentous signsþ"More is hidden than visible," "Everything that grows must change," etc.þand a certain tree pulsing with butterflies. When Vanessa samples the tree's fruit, she is transformed into a caterpillar that can eat only books: The diet horrifies her, but after a short pupation she has temporary wings and a permanent ability to fly. Exultantly, she snatches Newton up for a flight over the countryside, only to spot many of her classmates caged in caterpillar form and starved to prevent their metamorphoses. Who has done this? Their parents, many of whom once flew but through fear, guilt, or lack of interest have forgotten how, want to keep their children grounded. Holch's simple, direct style and his pairing of young people with vastly different but complementary characters is reminiscent of Kevin Henkes's novels, but there are contrivances: An adult in mirror shades has an ominous interest in Vanessa until it comes out that he's her father; they suddenly move away for no clear reason; Newton re-enacts an old Chinese story, dreaming of being a butterfly and waking to wonder which is the dream. Despite such convolutions, readers will devour the story, and hope for more fantasy musings from Holch in the future. (Fiction. 10-12)