Review by Nancy Holzner
You’re reading a book and then you put it down, turning your attention to other things. What happens to the book’s characters when you stop reading? That’s the question James Bow asks in The Unwritten Girl, a charming and imaginative fantasy for middle-school readers.
Rosemary Watson prefers facts to stories; she’d rather read the Encyclopedia Britannica than get emotionally involved in the pain and conflict of literature. But when her older brother Theo literally loses himself in a book, Rosemary must venture into the Land of Fiction to find him and bring him home.
Rosemary is helped on her quest by Peter, a new boy at her school, and Puck, Midsummer Night’s Dream character and their guide in the Land of Fiction. Every bit as strange as you might image, the Land of Fiction is the kind of place where ideas grow on trees and a boy can turn into an eagle just by asking, “What if?” It’s populated by all kinds of characters: from numbers to knights, from detectives to a villainous mad scientist. There’s also a girl very much like Rosemary, who was left in a terrifying situation when Rosemary stopped reading her book.
Puck describes the Land of Fiction as “a patchwork of stories,” and that’s how Rosemary and Peter experience it. With each new story they enter, their clothes and surroundings change, and they encounter new characters and a new test. Rosemary is smart and resourceful, and Peter makes a likable and loyal sidekick. As they themselves become characters in a series of stories, they face increasing danger and learn important life lessons.
Author Bow clearly had a lot of fun creating this world. The Unwritten Girl is the kind of book that richly rewards imaginative involvement. Middle-school-aged readers will enjoy Bow’s silly puns and sometimes mind-bending ideas, although they’re likely to miss literary allusions to writers such as Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, and Arthur Conan Doyle.