I think I may have a thing for middle-grade novels…
I mean, I haven’t even read that many of them… Ok, I’ve just counted how many middle-grade books I’ve read and it’s more than I thought, so I retract the previous statement. I read this book in a matter of days. I wanted to devour it in one sitting, but unfortunately, life got in the way and made sure that didn’t happen. This book is about faeries, magic, demons, and it was just pure enjoyment.
A mysterious forest near the cosy town of Herogate is more than what it seems. The Gnarled trees appear to breathe, gloomy storms follow you around, and prowling shadows come to life before your very eyes. The forest is guarded by a strange old man and creatures, not of this world. Even the locals never set foot in the bewitched woodlands, and trespassers have a way of turning up dead.
When Noah Walters moves to town with his parents, his father makes Noah promise to never enter those woods; but fate has other plans.
Noah and his new best friends, Ethan and Skye, are chased into the woods by Grucker, a schoolyard bully, and their lives are changed forever. They are forced into the heart of the forest, where they discover a lost fairy who needs their help to find her way back home before it’s too late.
As soon as I started reading this book, it instantly reminded me of The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony Diterlizzi. I read and re-read those books when I was younger; I absolutely loved them. Once Upon a Time had a very similar feel to it with the different magical realms that belonged to humans, faeries, gnomes… In the opening chapter, we see the faerie Neevya and how she lives in her faerie world, and then we see her fly through a portal into the human world.
Even though this book is a middle-grade novel, it didn’t feel like that. The language wasn’t too simplistic, the plot wasn’t boring; everything had a nice balance, and there was also diversity among our three protagonists! Skye is a young, black girl who dreams of being a dancer, Noah is a half-Chinese boy who is fascinated by science, and Ethan is a white, smart and funny boy who loves to tease his friends, but will also do anything for them. I absolutely loved all of the characters, and I felt like each person brought something to the book that kept on making it better. I do think that the secondary characters such as Olivia, Grucker and Scaretaker could have been developed more and I just hope that there is a book two so that this can happen. I would also love to see a novel/novella from Olivia’s point of view as I think that would be so fascinating to see what she dreams, and more importantly, how she copes with them at such a young age.
“He rubbed his eyes, not because he was tired, but because he had been staring at his computer screen for over four hours while playing his new game.”
– Laura C. Cantu, Betwixters: Once Upon a Time
The three children go on such an incredible journey, as individuals and as a team. We see them go from being scared of the school bully: Grucker, to finally having enough of keep having to watch their back and standing up to him. There was one moment in this book that really really got to me, and that was when Ethan’s parents went to his school and told the headteacher about the bullying that was going on at her school. And instead of her saying that she didn’t know but she would check it out, she just turned her nose up at the parents and told them not to tell her how to run her school. I thought that this was just so horrible to hear because unfortunately, sometimes it can be the case with some schools; they just don’t want to accept that they don’t have a handle on things. Luckily, Ethan’s parents stuck up for him and shouted at the headteacher which I thought was awesome! The form of ‘the bully’ takes on many forms throughout Once Upon a Time, and I loved reading about how the friends came together to tackle each and every one of them.
I also adored the magical elements of the book. I thought Neevya was such an amazing faerie with a fantastic personality, and I also loved the idea of the chondoras, trolls and demons that plagued the Dern. As I said before, I really really hope that there is a second book, because I need to see what else these kids get up to and I want to find out more about Scaretaker and Olivia.
Betwixters: Once Upon a Time is a brilliant middle-grade novel that is perfect for children from ages eight upwards, and I think it would be a brilliant book to have in school libraries, as it would draw children into the world full of magic and friendship, but also convey brilliant family dynamics that are full of support and love.
Side note: I also LOVED how the book was set in England. It just felt like a breath of fresh air because all of the books that I read are set in America!
Disclaimer: this book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review