Book Review: Northwood by Brian Falkner and Donovan Bixley

Northwood is a middle grade novel written by Brian Falkner and illustrated Donovan Bixley. Cecilia Undergarment discovers that the dog next door is being mistreated. She is determined to help him, but her daring rescue sends her and the dog, Rocky, on an amazing adventure into the dark forest called Northwood. This forest is rumored to be home to black lions, and no one that goes in seems to come back out again. Cecilia and Rocky discover even bigger mysteries about the forest, like a castle and people that live seemingly trapped there by the maze and lions. Can Cecelia figure out the mysterious of the forest and find her way home, or will she having the leading role in the next mysterious disappearance story?

Northwood begins in Cecelia's neighborhood, and her strange home made of balloons. Then comes the fact that she can talk to animals, and needs to rescue the poor dog next door. Somehow these facts come together and lead to Cecelia and Rocky floating away into the depths of the Northwood, and beginning an even more dangerous trek through the dark wood.  I loved that all the strangeness found in Cecelia's life and the Northwood are eventually explained, but that process does not take away the wonder that their existence brings. Black lions, the mysterious fog, impossibly hard trees, and more are all introduced and explained wonderfully. The characters and language are used extremely well and left me feeling like I am missing the magic that might be hiding the the world around me.

I think Cecelia is a great character, she is smart and strong minded. I think that her tenaciousness and flexibility to do what needs to be done in order to do the right thing makes her a great role model. Evan's love of and misuse of big words,  Avery's personality, and the variety of other characters come together nicely to make the story exciting and fun to read. There is plenty of 'kid' humor- with names like Tony Baloney and Cecilia Undergarment how can you doubt it. However, there is also a message about doing the right thing (particularly when it is not easy) and some sensitive topics handled beautifully. The setting descriptions are very well done, and the illustrations are equally delightful. The book is an all around win, with my only disappointment being that there were still some lose ends that I would like to have seen tied up at the end.

I greatly enjoyed Northwood and would highly recommend it to middle grade readers, and just about everyone that enjoys fantasy like fiction that feels like it could happen because of the writing style. Fans of Lemony Snickett style asides and getting a few good snickers out of silly names and such will particularly enjoy the story.

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