I really loved this book. Grossman hides a whole lot of truth in his amalgamated fantasy, which is no less fascinating or original for its obvious nods to previous fantasy writers. I’ve heard this book marketed as Harry Potter for adults or something like that, but I think that does Grossman a disservice. You know how on “The Office,” Jim Halpert looks at the camera a lot? Or on “Saved By the Bell,” how Zack would talk to the camera? I think Grossman’s nods to previous works of fantasy are sort of the same thing. It’s a wink to the reader. It acknowledges that the reader is probably familiar with fantasy– Narnia, Middle-Earth, Harry Potter, and so forth– even as it upends the expectations these previous fantasy novels have created in contemporary readers. “See how this is not Harry Potter?” Grossman seems to be saying. Grossman pulls some really wonderful elements from previous works together, and adds his own wonderful perspective. He communicates a message not about growing up, but about living with yourself regardless of situation. Lewis, Rowling, et. al. have created wonderful worlds where their characters can adventure freely. Grossman has created fully realistic characters and exposed them to the magical to demonstrate that life itself is the adventure. You can be smart, sophisticated, and successful, but if you don’t engage fully in your own life, what is it worth? The real “fantasy world” we all inhabit is the Self.
I I’m still trying to sort out how I feel about everything in this book. It was certainly unsettling and thought-provoking. Grossman has a particular gift for drawing characters. I may not have particularly liked many of them, but I understood them very well. In many ways, most of his characters reminded me of myself, which may be why I feel so ambivalent about them. Other reviewers of this book claimed to find the characters self-indulgent or just hateful, but I don’t feel that way at all. They are flawed, confused people trying to figure out how to make sense of things (and very few people aren’t that way, whether or not they acknowledge that). And also they can use magic. This book was a touching love story (and action narrative, drama, etc.) and an exciting fantasy novel as well. There’s such a spark about this book, imho. All in all, a really great story filled with wonderful, heartbreaking elements. Just about perfect.