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Vince Elgin is an orphan, having lost his mother and his father in a fire when he was young, but beyond that, his life hasn't been much of a fairy tale. With only a senile grandfather he barely knows to call family, Vince was remanded to a group home, where he spun fantastical stories, dreaming of the possibility that his father, whose body was never found, might one day return for him. But it's been a long time since the fire, a long time since Vince has told himself a story worth believing in. That's when a letter arrives, telling Vince his grandfather has passed away. Vince cannot explain it, but he's convinced that if his father is somehow still alive, he'll find him at the funeral. He strikes out for his grandfather's small hometown of Dyerville carrying only one thing with him: his grandfather's journal. The journal tells a story that could not possibly be true, a story of his grandfather's young life involving witches, giants, magical books, and evil spirits. But as Vince reads on and gets closer to Dyerville, fact and fiction begin to intertwine, and Vince finds that his very real adventure may have more in common with his grandfather's than he ever could have known.

I really enjoyed this book - it reminded me a lot of the film Big Fish in that Vince learns more and more about his grandfather through seemingly fantastical tales, while also learning that there might be more truth in them than he realized.

My thoughts in a few words: Imaginative, suspenseful, frightful, a bit unsatisfying.

Kozlowsky manages to create a vibrant world within the tales that Vince reads. Each tale holds some traditional fairy tale elements while also having new and unexpected twists that keep the readers on their toes. I loved reading about the changing doors within the giant's cave, the creepy creature which guards what Vincent needs, and the dream world where he could stay forever if he wished. The imagery within each of the tales is vibrant and will stay with the reader for a long time after closing the book.

Suspenseful and frightful
Despite the novel being middle grade, it doesn't hold back with the horror. I love when children's books have genuinely creepy bits in like Coraline or The Book of Lost Things (though I suppose you could argue that TBoLT is a novel for adults). Most of The Dyerville Tales are pretty tame, until the last few when the creep factor really gets cranked up. The bit where Vincent has to face The Tall Man actually had me looking up from the book at every noise from the dark hallway outside my bedroom door. Kozlowsky has a gift for creepy characters--The Tall Man, Death, the witch's servants, and eventually the witch herself.

A bit unsatisfying
Spoiler warning. I felt that while the ending of the book was good I wanted something more. There were loose ends that I wanted tied up. I got the feeling that Kozlowsky wanted to make a statement about reality and stories, but I wasn't sure that we ever really got there. I liked that he strings the reader along - are the stories true or not? Are they partly true? In the end, does it matter that a story isn't true if believing in it can inspire us or keep us going? This was good for most of the book and really kept me guessing, but even at the end we aren't given a fulfilling answer. It seems like Kozlowsky is hinting that the stories aren't true but are a way of coping with the real world--then at the very end of the book the indication is strong that the stories are true. But that throws a wrench into the works and opens more questions that are unanswered in the abrupt ending. Is Vince's dad still alive? Were Vince's parents really trying to save him from something the night of the fire? What's the real cause of his grandfather's scar and why was there so much focus on it? What were the numbers on the tree house ladder? There's no indication these answers are being saved for a sequel; throughout the book I was sure these would all be answered by the end, but they weren't and that left me unsatisfied.

Overall this book is definitely worth reading, even if just for the stories within the story.

(Purchase The Dyerville Tales by M.P. Kozlowsky from Indiebound)

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