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The Menagerie

Review

The Menagerie

It is never easy being the new kid in town, and it is even harder when the town is very small and you are visibly different from just about everyone else. But, as readers of all ages know, that premise can be the start of a fantastic story. THE MENAGERIE, the first book in a new series by sisters Tui T. and Kari Sutherland, takes the new kid idea in a new direction when they add to it a runaway mom, a zoo full of magical creatures, six escaped baby griffins and some unexpected natural creature-tracking abilities.

"There are some neat twists, turns and plenty of action and thrills but nothing nightmarish or too scary. It is a fantastic and fun introduction to fantasy literature for young and middle grade readers."

Seventh-grader Logan Wilde just moved to Xanadu, Wyoming with his father. Even though his father says the move was for work, Logan suspects they are really on the trail of his mother, Abigail, who left them behind in Chicago with a postcard saying she didn’t plan on ever coming back. Of course Logan is sad, but he is also lonely; he has been having trouble making friends in Xanadu and as one of just a few minority kids, is feeling really out of place. With his father working a lot, Logan spends most of his time with his pets, all of whom he cares for deeply. But a chance encounter with three kids from his school draws him into a two-day adventure like none he could ever imagine.

After waking up to a strange morning (bird feathers all over his room and his cat and pet mice hiding and acting scared,) Logan, out on his bike, almost crashes into sixth-grader Keiko and fellow seventh-graders Zoe and Blue. The stressed out kids tell him they are looking for Zoe’s dog. Being a dog lover, Logan wants to help them find it. They turn down his offer, but later in the day, he gets his chance to help. The animal Logan eventually finds isn’t a dog, however. It is not quite a lion and not quite an eagle either; as impossible as it seems, the animal Logan finds, and the one the other kids were looking for, is a baby griffin. Logan brings the pup to Zoe’s house only to learn that her family is the caretaker of the largest magical menagerie in North America, and the griffin pup is one of six siblings that escaped the Menagerie in search of good food, treasure and fun. Zoe’s family realizes Logan’s innate tracking skills and soon enlists him in the hunt for the other griffin pups. Over the next couple days he meets arrogant unicorns, an emotional phoenix, royal merpeople, a murderous selkie and more. Despite Logan’s talent for finding the pups (and communicating with them as well,) danger looms large. It is still unclear who let the griffins out; there are inspectors in town with the power to shut the Menagerie down, and the school librarian is acting very suspicious. Is it possible Logan’s mom is connected to the Menagerie somehow?  The book ends with all the griffins safely back at home, but with many unanswered questions and a violent act that makes for one heck of a cliffhanger.

The cliffhanger will either thrill readers ready to read the next book in the series or frustrate those who were hoping for a stand-alone story. And, while it is always great when the first book in a series can be read without all the sequels, the charm of this book makes up for that issue. The storytelling has an ease to it that balances out the magical realism, and the characters are all interesting and distinct. The budding friendship between Logan and Zoe is particularly well-written and sweet. THE MENAGERIE is recommended by the publisher for readers ages eight to 12-year-olds, but younger kids will also enjoy this story (the reading level is not too difficult) on their own or as a read aloud story with parents. There are some neat twists, turns and plenty of action and thrills but nothing nightmarish or too scary. It is a fantastic and fun introduction to fantasy literature for young and middle grade readers.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 18, 2013

The Menagerie
by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland