by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Julie remembers grade six well. She tells the story of her year as it relates to a series of Polaroid pictures. Grade six Julie just wants two things in life: for Shocky to notice her and for Mimi to invite her over to her house. She becomes interested in bigger issues when two mysterious Mongolian brothers show up at her school. Chingis, the older of the two, tells everyone to call his brother Nergui–Mongolian for “no name”–and tells Julie that a vanishing demon is hunting his brother. Chingis makes Julie their “Good Guide,” making her responsible for teaching them about their surroundings so they can blend in and the demon won’t find Nergui. Julie gets so involved in Chingis’s stories about Mongolia and the demon that she starts to notice some inconsistencies. Like, how did he take photos of Mongolia if he got his camera last summer at a refugee camp in England? Is he even from Mongolia? Doesn’t he know that demons don’t exist and people don’t just vanish?
Like some other reviewers who picked up this book, I thought it would be a pure fantasy story. I would still classify it as fantasy, but it binds fantastical conflicts with reality more closely than most. A lot of fantasy takes place in other worlds but reflects on our own; this story manifests fantasy elements from real situations. In fact, many story elements are based on a true story, which Cottrell Boyce tells in the afterword. I loved the genre blending, and I liked the way in which the mystery about the two brothers unfolded. For such a short book, the characters are well developed and I grew to like them. The Polaroid pictures sprinkled throughout the book made it visually enjoyable, and the writing was easy to follow. Although I wouldn’t categorize it as a book I couldn’t put down, I actually couldn’t put it down and stayed up later than I wanted to in order to finish it all in one go.
Recommended to adults who like kids books and kids who enjoy character-driven realistic fiction, curiosity-driven plots, and intersections of fantasy and reality. A good one for teachers of older elementary students to read aloud in units addressing social issues such as refugees.