The Fantastical Exploits of Gwendolyn Gray by B.A. Williamson
Genre: Portal Fantasy
Age category: Middle Grade
Release Date: April 28, 2020
When it comes to children’s entertainment, there’s always two categories: the stuff kids will like and the stuff grown-ups want them to like. It’s a rare work that fits into both, yet Gwendolyn Gray does so with ease. The book has so many nuggets of wisdom that not only kids need to hear but adults, too. Bring up an image of the one inspiration poster that hit you with exactly what you needed to hear exactly when you needed to hear it. (After which, if you’re like me, you walked away pretending it had no effect on you whatsoever.) If that moment could somehow be captured in a middle grade novel, Gwendolyn Gray is it.
Gwendolyn is a protagonist with very human struggles. The book opens with her facing the possibility that everything she’s done to help people might not only be undone, but it might not have even been helpful to begin with. Now on the run from the same blank-faced “mister men” from the previous book, she finds her only escape is through a portal where the magical creatures on the other side might be just as dangerous as the ones she’s running from.
I read this book knowing it was the second of the series, but the narration caught me up quickly, and there was never a point I felt lost. I connected to Gwendolyn right away. There’s times when she fails to see her self-worth and times when she’s childishly overconfident. She’s a character who both succeeds and fails, often the latter at the worst possible times. And while she has incredible powers, but she doesn’t always have access to them, certainly not when she’s feeling down on herself. She makes mistakes that are entirely her fault and doesn’t always want to own up to them right away. She also has a series of emotional struggles that are portrayed in both a realistic and sympathetic way.
The settings in this book are just as strong and well thought out as its protagonist. The descriptions are rich, creative, and vivid, pulling the reader through amazing worlds that feel completely real, no matter how many magical, implausible things are happening. When an author directly tells the audience (paraphrasing here) that “I’ve got quite a way with words, and even I can’t quite describe how this felt,” it displays a level of confidence I would otherwise be really put off by…except that B.A. Williamson really is that good with words.
This book was an absolute pleasure to read, and I will be picking up the first one for sure. Both to read it for me and to read it with my kids.
Rating: 5 out of 5
You can find The Fantastical Exploits of Gwendolyn Gray on Goodreads