A YA fantasy with a nostalgic essence, echoing Spielberg's warmer movies, and perhaps other pop culture touchstones (ahem) over the last century, appears to be set in more contemporary times than both, around the turn of the millennium.
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The fantasy world is an element that is not believed by some of Bronte's family members. This can be read as a corollary into real world aspects of social and family life, like arguments about religious belief and faith.
But if you knew of a world beyond ours that you've traveled to, and you're telling your children or parents about it, the chances are high that they will be concerned for your sanity and remain incredulous.
The religious faith analogy has a wonderful subtlety to it, and there is much else that Hartwell does with similar style.
In the opening pages, Bronte and Riley (her male friend) are accosted by the school bully more than once, and both survive near-death experiences inspired by this third child's lunacy. The bully Regan is well-drawn, her popularity seemingly imposed, the logic of childhood one-upmanship deftly handled.
Hartwell is good on kids, establishing a sort of ranking of friends - suggesting for instance that male-female friendship may not be as important as same-gender relationships at this age. This is probably typical of many child attitudes, where a girl is another's best friend, and there is a second-best girlfriend, and a boy is the best boy friend but there is a second-best boy in the wings, the pecking order arbitrarily shifting week to week. It's all captured by Hartwell in a line or two.
The drama involving more senior family members begins, with more adult (but child-friendly) themes, and we are introduced to the fantasy realm. It's a wonderfully drawn world - again, with echoes of 80s fantasy movies (although one can visualise better effects!).
Such nostalgia will no doubt enable adults to drink in the plot and themes, while the work is certainly an original and one that all the other members of the family will love too.
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