This is a delightful young adult novel that may be a challenge for middle and high school readers who have not experienced a broad range of books. For many reasons, this is a great choice for a school or classroom library.
This was the first novel Carlos Ruiz Zafón
published; it appeared in Spanish in 1993. It was very deftly translated and published in English in May, 2010 by Lucia Graves
. It has been selected for numerous awards around the world; the American Library Association included it on its Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2011
The story is an exhilarating mystery thriller that will be well enjoyed by those who gravitate to that genre. There are also elements of the supernatural, which draws in additional readers. The story is solidly grounded as a young adult tale, told from the point of view of the middle child and only son in a family; his parents and siblings are seen through a teen boy's eyes and the emotional development aligned with the plot is appropriate to a thirteen year old.
The lexile for this book is 990, but this may not fully represent its complexity. It will be more challenging for some readers than other popular books with higher lexiles, like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid
and Lemony Snicket
books. The words and sentences are no more advanced (as the lexile measures), but some of the imagery and figurative language may be unfamiliar. Mr. Zafón is from Barcelona and his voice is born of Catalonia. Readers not accustomed to translations and diverse cultures may need to work a bit to appreciate the language and imagery of the story. For those who succeed, it will have been worth the effort, as the language is beautiful and the figurative elements are captivating. Some sentences jump off the page to create a sensation not unlike turning the corner in a new city to see a famous landmark for the first time.
Beyond its value in a classroom library, this can be a useful mentor text when teaching about literary devices, figurative language, and elements of a novel. It would also be a great choice for an interdisciplinary unit connected to World War II. For students who are ready to draw parallels between history and the many story elements symbolic of the encroachment of war, there are many examples to be found here; some have suggested the character named the Prince of Mist can be interpreted as Hitler.
Students who want additional reading can now follow this with a second young adult title by Mr. Zafón: The Midnight Palace
. It was written in 1994 and translated to English in 2011, again by Lucia Graves. Readers who are ready to enjoy adult-themed material and some gruesome violence may be referred to Mr. Zafón's books for mature readers: The Shadow of the Wind
, The Angel's Game
, and The Prisoner of Heaven
. It is in these three books that we are introduced to Mr. Zafón's ingenious, iconic invention, the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books