– Short Review –
Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers combines the best elements of classic children’s books – adventure, mystery, and a magical world to explore – and serves them up in an original way. Tilly lives above her family’s bookshop, surrounded by books and loving grandparents, but still confused about her mother’s mysterious disappearance when she was a baby. When her favourite fictional characters come to life, and Anne of Green Gables and Alice in Wonderland step out of their novels to visit her in the bookshop, she realises the truth about her mother’s strange disappearance isn’t the only secret being kept from her. With help from her grandparents and her friend Oskar, she ventures into the pages of her mother’s favourite book to solve the mystery, but there she finds the world of stories isn’t as safe as she imagined, and there are those who are willing to try to stop her from finding the truth at all costs.
– Long review –
In the first novel in the Pages & Co, series, Anna James has created a magical world that readers are just as desperate to explore as Tilly. World-building is one of this novel’s great strengths, and in chapter one the bookshop is described as an almost Hogwarts-like setting:
‘The shop was made up of five floors of corners and cubbyholes, sofas and squashy armchairs, and a labyrinth of bookshelves heading off in different directions. A spiral staircase danced up one wall, and painted wooden ladders stretched up into difficult-to-reach corners. Tall arched windows made it feel a little like a church when the light spilled in and dust motes danced in the air. When it was good weather the sun pooled on the floor and the bookshop cat – named Alice for her curious nature could often be found dozing in the warmer spots. During the summer the big fireplace behind the till was filled to bursting with fresh flowers, but as it was October a fire was roaring there.’
To ensure readers don’t feel a little jealous of Tilly for living in such an enchanting world with loving grandparents who are always making her hot chocolate and cakes, Anna James has ensured that Tilly’s past is sad enough that we still feel sorry for her. She has a huge gap in her life, in the shape of her mother who disappeared when she was a baby, and a father who doesn’t appear to have been part of her life at all. No one answers her questions on the subject, and Tilly feels that her only connection to her lost mother is the books that they both loved.
Her peaceful life is interrupted one day when she bumps into Anne of Green Gables wandering round the bookshop large as life, and soon both Anne and Alice from Alice in Wonderland are visiting Tilly at the bookshop. When Tilly and her friend Oskar are taken by Anne into her own novel to experience the story as though it were real life, they realise that they have the power to wander inside books. When Tilly’s grandparents find out, they ensure that the novice Bookwanderers receive some basic training in the Underlibrary – the secret basement in the British Library run by Bookwanderers.
Like all good adventures, this one comes complete with a baddy who is more than he seems at first. Enoch Chalk, Reference Librarian of the Underlibrary, is a wonderfully-drawn character who is sinister and threatening, and whose ulterior motives we’re dying to discover by the end of the book. At their very first meeting in the bookshop, Tilly takes an instant dislike to him:
‘The man standing in front of Jack did not smile back. He was tall and slender, and was wearing a pinstripe suit with a grey bowler hat. His grey tie was held in place with a finely wrought silver tiepin in the shape of an ornate, old-fashioned key. In one hand he held a slim black notebook, and in the other a cane.’
‘Tilly gave an involuntary shudder as he left. “Goodness, I wonder what he wants with Grandad?”’
When she realises he’s spying on her as she bookwanders, her dislike turns to fear, and when he tries to stop her plan to rescue her mother, she realises he’s not at all who he claims to be.
This is a wonderful, timeless adventure story that will have book fans everywhere cheering for Tilly and Oskar as they try to thwart Chalk’s evil plans, and leave them eager for the next novel in the series when can step back into the pages of the books with Tilly and Oskar to go wandering through the classics from their childhoods.
Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers is published by Harper Collins and can be purchased here.
Anna James is a writer and journalist living in London. Anna was Book News Editor at The Bookseller magazine and was Literary Editor of Elle UK. Anna has also written for The Pool, The LA Times, The Financial Times and The Independent, as well as making bookish YouTube videos as A Case For Books. She hosts literary events and panels and is the co-founder and host of the YA Salon in London. She was shortlisted for the Kim Scott Walwyn Award for Women in Publishing in 2015, and the London Book Fair Trailblazers Award in 2016.
Reviewed by Victoria Williamson.
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