________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006


The Unwritten Girl.

James Bow.
Toronto, ON: Boardwalk/Dundurn, 2006.
205 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 1-55002-604-6.

Subject Headings:
Quests (Expeditions)-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.

Review by Vikki VanSickle.

**½ /4


The girl turned towards Rosemary and disappeared. Rosemary jumped back. The girl had not faded into nothingness, as though she were a ghost. A ghost Rosemary could handle, maybe. Instead she had folded out of existence, growing thinner as she turned until she was a line and then nothing at all, as though she were a piece of paper. Rosemary goggled at the empty space, and she swore it was looking back at her.

The Unwritten Girl is a quirky and fast paced novel built around the concept of a fantasy land populated by fictional book characters. The novel begins with Rosemary Watson's older brother Theo arriving home from university with a strange affliction. He is dazed, unresponsive, and constantly reading the same book. When Rosemary and her new friend, Peter, are finally able to wrestle the book away from him, they discover that the book is only half written, and it records what happens to Rosemary as it is happening. Puck, a faerie shape-shifter and Rosemary's self-professed guide, arrives to tell Rosemary and Peter that Theo is being held captive in the Land of Fiction. In order to save him, Rosemary must go into the Land of Fiction through a secret portal and complete a series of challenges.

     In the Land of Fiction, Rosemary is reunited with some of her favourite childhood book characters, such as the Number Crunchers, who help her on her way. But there are other characters that are not as helpful, and Rosemary, Peter and Puck are constantly being chased by a girl with a strange resemblance to Rosemary and a series of ominous zeppelins.

     The Unwritten Girl is an entertaining read. The story moves along quickly, and the dialogue is often funny and full of wit. Rosemary is a smart, articulate character with a wry sense of humour and a highly developed sense of independence that will bode well with young adult readers. Peter is the perfect sidekick, sweet, loyal, and dependable. Their relationship is clearly patterned after the relationship between Meg and Calvin in A Wrinkle in Time, which is just one of many texts that Bow alludes to in his story.

     A well-read teenager will delight in recognizing characters and situations from familiar books, such as A Wrinkle in Time, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Alice Through the Looking Glass, The Wizard of Oz, and Murder on the Orient Express, among many others. Some of the allusions are far more obvious than are others. It is possible to understand and enjoy the novel without catching these references, but part of the fun is recognizing these connections.

     The Land of Fiction, which is the central setting for the novel, is an interesting but underdeveloped concept. Puck describes the Land of Fiction as a "patchwork of stories." As Rosemary and Peter walk into a new story, their surroundings and their clothing change in a blink of an eye. Rosemary and Peter arrive on a beach where ideas grow on Idea Trees, fall from the tree, and then get carried across the Sea of Ink, eventually arriving in the Land of Fiction. Characters are born in the Sea of Ink and swim to shore where they walk off to find their own stories. The Land of Fiction is not only home to fictional characters but also to literary devices, such as the Fearmonger, who is responsible for creating the frightening parts of fiction, and the Mystery Man, who deals in clues and suspense.

     Great fantasy novels have a fully developed secondary world. In order for a fantasy world to be effective, it needs to have an atmosphere that differentiates it from the 'real' world of the novel. That atmosphere is conveyed through the elements of tone, setting, and a unique set of rules and logic that govern the action that takes place within that secondary world. Perhaps because of its varied landscape, the Land of Fiction is difficult to visualize and does not feel unified as a whole. The rules of this world are not fully developed, and there is much that is left unexplained. For example, The Land of Fiction appears to be populated only by characters with whom Rosemary is familiar. Does this happen by chance, or does the Land of Fiction change and shift according the literary history of a specific reader? There is no explanation as to why certain characters are more powerful than others. But most significantly, what the Land of Fiction is really missing is that feeling of mystery, wonder, and that surreal quality that comes with visiting a fantasy land.

     Bow's greatest strengths are his concept and the fluidity of the novel. It is a solid first work by a promising writer. The Unwritten Girl is an engaging and entertaining novel that will bring a smile to the reader's face and perhaps send the reader to the library looking for old favourites.


Vikki VanSickle is completing her Masters of Arts in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia. She is currently living in Vancouver and is originally from Woodstock, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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