Favorite Fictional Locations

There are many factors that make a book or series lovable, and among these is location. The intricately described and developed locations in books are one of my favorite parts about reading. They make the story vivid, and they strengthen the reality of the world. Here are a few of my favorite fictional locations:

 Hogwarts (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling)

It’s school for magic and a castle—what more could a fantasy lover ask for? Over the course of seven books, Hogwarts almost becomes a fictional home for readers just as it becomes a home for Harry. Though it has its share of dangers (such as Blast-Ended Skrewts and potentially evil Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers), Hogwarts is an exciting place with cozy common rooms, an incredible library, and a friendly keeper of the keys.

The Burrow (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling)

The Burrow is Harry’s escape from the Dursley’s, full of Quidditch practice, Mrs. Weasley’s cooking, and the friendliest family. It’s hard not to feel content when I read about the Burrow; it’s such a peaceful place and it’s so comforting to Harry. The house is cozy and delightfully crooked, and even the ghoul in the attic is pleasant (most of the time). 

Isla de los Sueños and Caraval’s Stage (Caraval by Stephanie Garber)

Isla de los Sueños’ description is so intriguing in Caraval: a magic-filled island with colorful shops selling the most unusual items, and with currency other than coins. Caraval’s stage is also a setting I enjoy reading about; there are so many possibilities on the stage: stores shaped like hats, underground networks, and carousels of roses. The unique locations in Caraval allow me to be swept away by the magical performance …though, of course, not too far away.

 Arundel (The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall) 

Although Arundel is not a location in a fantasy story, the yellow cottage, the mansion, and the garden behind the mansion combined with the wonderful characteristics of the four sisters develop a fantastical atmosphere. From walks though a garden in the moonlight to pillow forts in the piano room, Arundel has a large part in the charm of The Penderwicks.

– Mia T.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Until I read Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove, I hadn’t realized how a book could pull off being so comical yet saddening simultaneously.

The story is in the perspective of Ove, who appears nothing more than a cranky, contentious old man. Ove is the kind of man who takes morning rounds of his neighborhood, playing the role of an unwanted rule-enforcer while judging everyone in his unintentionally humorous way. The novel goes back and forth between present and past, and as the story progresses, insight is gained explaining why Ove is the way he is and why he lost his purpose of life.

The glimpses of the past gave me a respect and understanding for Ove and his principles—he isn’t just a cranky old man for no reason. Additionally, unlike many other stories with flashbacks, this story didn’t frustrate me with its back-and-forth movement. In fact, it kept me wanting to know more. Little mysteries are revealed, which explain Ove’s attitude toward certain, seemingly unconnected things.

As the readers gain a new understanding of Ove, the people (and the cat) around Ove gain a similar understanding and love for him. People appreciate and depend on Ove’s practical skills and blunt-yet-considerate manner; they find a place in their hearts for Ove, which helps him regains his purpose. A Man Called Ove is an incredibly humorous yet bittersweet read, and I highly recommend it. It’s the perfect step outside the realm of the prevalent YA novels, and its depth and insight make it a story that’s well worth the read.

– Mia T.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Oyster Thief by Sonia Faruqi

Told in third person from the perspectives of Izar, the adoptive son of a wealthy and avaricious owner of the oil company Ocean Dominion; and Coralline, a gentle mermaid who is an assistant at an apothecary, The Oyster Thief is a world of juxtapositions, of mermaids and men, water and fire.

When he is young, Izar’s adoptive father tasks him to invent underwater fire so that Ocean Dominion can scour the ocean floor for treasure while destroying the settlements of merpeople in the process. As is evident from this plan, the people at Ocean Dominion regard merpeople as lesser than humans–even monstrous. In contrast to Izar, Coralline is an apothecary whose goal is to heal and care for other merpeople.

Sonia Faruqi switches between the two characters to show how their lives run both parallel to and in contradiction with each other until their storylines meld together into one. The Oyster Thief touches on the concepts of true love and why people are not always how they seem. Coralline with her healing and Izar with his destruction seem natural enemies, yet they grow steadily closer to each other as the story progresses. I liked how Izar and Coralline’s actions are contrasted with each other by how differently each reacts in a similar situation.

The underwater world Sonia Faruqi builds is very well thought out; the merpeople’s food, customs, currency, and so forth are all considered, which makes the story more realistic. I thought the story was well-researched: for instance, species of algae and sea creatures, the physics of the underwater world, and scientific explanations for anomalies that occur (such as underwater fire) are specified. The incredibly logical explanations of the world help make the novel believable and sophisticated.

I did think that sometimes too much time was spent explicitly contemplating ironies or thematic concepts in the story that usually are interpreted by the reader, and many words are also spent giving a specific reason for a character’s actions. However, the novel’s concept is quite intriguing, and the many contrasts in the novel do lend themselves to a lot of irony that might require explanation.

I particularly enjoyed the characterization of the muses Pavonis, Altair, and Nacre (a muse is basically a merperson’s chosen companion, such as Coralline’s shark friend, Pavonis), as they are very developed and lovable characters.

In The Oyster Thief, Sonia Faruqi exemplifies how even the most contradictory matches–Izar and Coralline, poison and medicine, fire and water–can combine to form something healing and possibly incredible.

– Mia T.

The Oyster Thief by Sonia Faruqi is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

An outlier from the usual fairy-tale-based fiction, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is a unique, compelling book with twenty-first century references and a search for a mysterious, magical wood. Both the title and the cover intrigued me into picking up the book. I read the synopsis, which also seemed intriguing. But when I began to read, I was pulled into a story that I hadn’t quite anticipated–though it was still quite intriguing.

I’ve found that most books based on fairy tales have the protagonist enter the fairy tale world within the first half of the book (if they aren’t there already). However, The Hazel Wood is not based mainly in the fairy tale world, but on a search to find it. The novel begins similarly to a realistic fiction novel with a main character named Alice Proserpine. She and her mother, Vanella (Ella), are constantly on the road, moving from town to town. Alice lives with an unease; her memories seem off, as if she doesn’t fully fit into the world.

Unsettling events seems to follow the mother and daughter. Alice doesn’t know why, but she does know that her mother refuses to speak about her mother–Alice’s grandmother–Althea Proserpine.

Althea Proserpine is the reclusive author of the book of fairy tales Tales from the Hinterland. It’s a difficult book to get a copy of, but its fans are extreme. Alice has never been allowed to read the book, and has only snuck in a few lines from a story called “Alice Three-Times”.

When Alice’s mother receives a letter saying that Althea has passed away, she seems to relax. However, just when she marries and they finally slow down, Ella disappears. Alice, who has been struggling with going to a school full of rich kids (her step-father lives in a rich neighborhood and was able to find her a place in the school), must take on the much larger problem of finding her mother. She and an extreme fan of her grandmother’s stories named Ellery Finch begin a search for Althea’s estate, the Hazel Wood, which is just the place where Ella ordered Alice not to go.

During their search, Ellery and Alice notice characters from Tales from the Hinterland who have somehow left their world, and Ellery tells Alice parts of Althea’s stories, which are horrific and evil and not at all happily-ending.

Sprinkled with references to our popular culture, The Hazel Wood takes place mostly in the modern world, and is understandable for a young adult audience. I liked how Melissa Albert uniquely did not embellish the story with unrealistic romance or happy endings, which made the story more realistic: Alice’s stepsister is not ugly or really unkind to her, not everyone leaves the Hazel Wood, and the protagonists of some fairy tales are evil.

The Hazel Wood is a wonderful book to read if you are searching for a non-cliché young adult novel that puts an eerie spin on fairy tales.

– Mia T.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval, by Stephanie Garber, begins with Scarlett Dragna, who lives on a secluded isle with a cruel father who uses his daughters’ love for each other to control them. Whenever Scarlett does something wrong, her father punishes her sister, Donatella (Tella), instead. Scarlett banks her and her sister’s safety on her upcoming arranged marriage to a count whom she has only conferred with through letters. 

For years, Scarlett has written to Legend, the mysterious master of Caraval, hoping that he will bring his extravagant performance to her isle. Finally, when Legend writes back with three tickets to Caraval (which will be taking place on a magical island this year), Scarlett thinks she Tella would be better off not going. However, Tella has other ideas.

Far more bold and far less of a worrier than her protective sister, Tella and a strange sailor, Julian, conspire to bring Scarlett away from their father to the island where Caraval will be that year. When Tella suddenly disappears, Scarlett, who would do anything for her sister, begins to find that Tella has a greater part in Caraval than Scarlett had known. The only way Scarlett knows of that will reunite her with Tella is to win Caraval.

Caraval is Legend’s once-a-year performance which takes place over the course of five nights. Ticket holders can choose to either watch or play the game. The year Scarlett plays, the stage is a village, where the audience members who have chosen to play the game stay. Each night, Caraval fills with magic and illusions, and the players search for clues to guide them to the final prize. Scarlett finds herself in a performance where reality is blurred; it becomes difficult to differentiate the real people from actors who are simply playing parts in the game.

With Stephanie Garber’s beautiful descriptions and elegant characters, Caraval is one of my favorite young adult books. I particularly enjoyed reading from Scarlett’s perspective because her personality is not necessarily standard of a fantasy novel’s heroine, but her love for her sister motivates her throughout the book. By the end of Caraval, she has noticeably grown. Scarlett also describes senses and feelings with color, and the vivid imagery that results is magical. 

The story of Scarlett and Tella is continued in Legendary, which is written from the perspective of Tella. 

Caraval’s fantastic characters, vivid descriptions, and unanticipated turns make the book so difficult to set down. Stephanie Garber’s exquisite writing is a wonderful gift to read, and I highly recommend Caraval.

– Mia T.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall is one I have been reading for years and have yet to tire of. The series is about four sisters named Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. Shortly after Batty, the youngest, was born, their mother passed away, leaving their father to care for them. Mr. Penderwick is a botanist who throws out Latin phrases along with advice to his daughters. He can be quite lenient and unsure of his judgement, but he has his daughters’ respect and love. 

I love how each of the sisters is so unique and wonderful in their own way, and how Jeanne Birdsall writes from their perspectives is amazing. The sisters have such contrasting qualities, but these qualities compliment each other. Their father raises them with solid values, and though they make some mistakes, they are incredibly down-to-earth characters who find ways to solve any issues they have.

One aspect I find entertaining about their relationships with each other is the meetings they have, which are called “MOPS”, or Meeting of Penderwick Sisters. The sisters discuss problems they’ve noticed with their family or friends, and how they may be able to solve them. Despite their separate personalities and occasional arguments, the sisters are still so close and supportive of each other.

Rosalind is kind and compassionate, and is a wonderful older sister for her siblings. She is especially fond of her sister Batty, who is very attached to her. Her maturity and leadership results in her sisters looking up to her, even when she questions her own abilities.

Skye is adventurous and impatient with frivolity. Her relationship with Batty is entertaining to read about; Skye is uncertain with how to act with her younger sister while maintaining a tough exterior. 

Jane is a writer, with her mind constantly wandering, even during conversations (which tends to irritate Skye). On the Penderwicks’ trips throughout the series, Jane consistently manages to haul a stack of books with her. 

Batty is curious and shy, and she loves animals. Her sisters are protective of her, even if some of them pretend they aren’t. 

As the series progresses, the sisters grow older, and their changes in character are interesting to see. Though the plots of these books don’t revolve around a real villain or conflict, the stories are still so exciting, engaging, funny, and heartwarming. This really is a wonderful series, and the audiobooks read by Susan Denaker are amazing as well!

– Mia T.

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Favorite Fictional Parents

I thought it would be fun to compile a list of some of my favorite fictional parents, as some of them play such a big role in raising their children to be the heroes we love to read about.

Martin Penderwick (The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall): One thing I love about Mr. Penderwick, who is a botanist, is that he always seems to have a phrase of Latin to toss to his daughters, most of the time leaving them to puzzle it out. It is not easy to raise four daughters on your own, and by looking at his daughters, you can see he did quite a nice job.

Arthur Weasley (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling): Always intrigued by the various creations of Muggles, Arthur Weasley is not your typical wizard. He seems a supportive dad, with his son Ron looking to him for answers to questions, and though he can get a bit carried away with tinkering with Muggle objects and his fascination with “escapators”, his wife Molly tends to keep him in check.

Molly Weasley (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling): Loving and warm–though sharp at times– Mrs. Weasley treats Harry as one of her own children despite her already large family of seven kids. The wondrous food produced in her kitchen is one of Harry’s most favorite parts of staying at the Burrow. Though she is motherly and kind, it’s also best not to get on the wrong side of her wand; even her sons shrink from her anger although they are taller than she.

Sally Jackson (Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan): Sally Jackson shows true strength by raising a child on her own (a demigod, at that). Her love for her son, Percy, is evident in her willingness to live with a putrid-smelling man in order for the stench to cover up Percy’s demigod smell from creatures of Greek myths. Sally’s affection for her son is amazing, just like her seven-layer dip.

– Mia T.