George, Leigh and Mindy think things can't get much worse after their father is killed in a car crash, but then their mother develops cancer. Too weak from chemotherapy to take care of them, she sends them to spend the summer in the woods with her ex-husband, a troubled Vietnam veteran. To comfort the youngest, Mindy, George writes and illustrates a book of stories about a unicorn named Rosebud. Somehow, through a magic he does not understand, George opens a cosmic gate through which he brings Rosebud--a bright creature of light and grace--in the hopes that she might heal his mother. The gate also lets in an army of weevils, malevolent creatures that threaten to kill him, his sisters and mother. George, Leigh and Mindy must discover how to close the gate, but the price will be high. Using elements from Buddhism, unicorn lore and archetypal nightmares, Salsitz creates a plausible enough explanation of the magic that flows through this gripping fantasy-thriller. Riveting fight scenes and wrenching depictions of the children's emotional struggles result in first-rate suspense. Illustrations not seen by PW. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-- While Caroline Walsh undergoes chemotherapy, she sends her children to spend the summer with her ex-husband. (Her second husband, the children's father, was killed in a car accident.) George, 16, is the first to notice the menacing, red-eyed driver who follows him and his sisters out of the city, but it soon becomes apparent to 12-year-old Leigh and 6-year-old Mindy that mysterious and dangerous forces are at work. First, they are pursued by ember-eyed man-beasts called weevils, and then Rosebud, a wise unicorn, appears to help defend them. She tries to explain the imbalance between the forces of good and evil that has drawn her through the Twilight Gate from her own world to this one, but the siblings are too busy fighting for their lives to fully comprehend her story. Readers may be equally busy trying to follow the many disparate themes and elements presented here. The book begins in war-torn Vietnam with totally realistic events that are not explained or alluded to again until much later, and then jumps immediately to the present, as the children leave home with the weevils in hot pursuit. Realism is counterbalanced by fantasy throughout, with the changing relationships among the characters shaped and reshaped by the presence of the fantasy figures as well as by more natural, expected events. Many plot elements are mentioned but never fully developed. The presence of the werewolf-like weevils is never totally explained but the battle against them is entirely compelling, drawing readers rapidly to a satisfying conclusion in spite of the loose ends, which are hastily knotted together. Just as in real life, neither all questions are answered nor all problems solved, but the most immediate battles have been won and there is hope for the future. --Susan L. Rogers, Chestnut Hill Academy, PA
Distressed by the upheaval disrupting their lives, George Walsh, 15, and his sisters Leigh, 13, and Mindy, 5, seek protection and restoration through magic, and instead upset the balance between light and darkness. Their mother, Caroline, enduring the trials of chemotherapy, sends them off to spend the summer in the country with her ex-husband, Dave Stoner, a brooding Vietnam veteran. While George, Leigh, and Mindy try to adjust to the gruff Stoner, they find themselves haunted by unearthly creatures. One is Rosebud the unicorn, an elemental force for good, inadvertently evoked by George through the pictures in a book he has drawn for Mindy. Caroline's children hope that Rosebud's magic healing powers will cure their mother. Yet, where light manifests, shadow accompanies, and the sinister weevils slip into the world as well. Bestial and vicious, the weevils draw sustenance from the secret rage, fears, guilt, and futile desires of the human characters. Both unicorn and weevils must be returned home for light and darkness to regain equilibrium, but only the humans' sacrifice of their desires and fears for acceptance and love will do the trick. Salsitz's sprinkling of bits of Zen and New Age philosophy in the story seems an overstatement, but the pace is rapid and the action plentiful. Clark's black-and-white illustrations add drama and atmosphere to this intriguing fantasy.