Awkward, unsocial eleven-year-old Martin knows he's going to have a terrible summer with his weird great-aunt Lenore, who lives on a tiny island called Beyond. But nothing about Beyond is what Martin expects.
If it's not clear from my family posts, we are not huge on sitting around inside, playing video games, which is pretty much Martin's daily schedule. He is kind of a wimpy kid - no sports, afraid of everything, no friends other than the people in the tiny village he has made out of his father's old Army figures. The very definition of a Mama's boy. Other than the vivid imagination he shows in the creation of his village, there wasn't much to endear him to me - yet, I liked him.
From page one, somehow I was rooting for Martin, and took an instant dislike to his father, who wanted him to be a very different kind of boy. (To be fair, I also took an instant dislike to his mousy, enabling mother.) I didn't want him to have to go visit his 'aunt', even though it sounds like something I would have enjoyed. It's the mark of a good writer to make the reader like someone they would have rolled their eyes at and avoided in real life!
The other characters are distinct and quirky, each with a surprise or two. It isn't clear at first whether there is something mystical going on, or just mysteries that can be solved. A gentle coming of age story, perfect for kids who are old enough to realize that adults aren't as one-dimensional as they may have thought, and that they might not fit into the single box they had them in. At the same time, Martin - and hopefully the reader - discovers that there is also more to him than he previously thought.
Good addition for upper elementary/middle school age, appealing to both boys and girls.