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Monday, July 5, 2010

I Can Only "Imaginalis"...

If you're a fan of children's fantasy written in the vein of C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling, you might want to give J.M. DeMatteis' Imaginalis a look.

Here's why I think it works:

1) The Concept. I'll admit I'm not especially familiar with the young adult market these days, but Imaginalis strikes me as pretty unique at the conceptual level. It's the story of Mehera Crosby, a young girl crushed when her favorite fantasy series is canceled midstream. She is so distressed, in fact, that it begins to strain her personal relationships. Her cynical best friend and doting father both think it's time for her to move on, but she just can't. She even goes so far as to tell her father that the Imaginalians and their world are as real as he is. Of course when that turns out to be truer than even Mehera suspected, things get interesting.

The Imaginalians are trapped in limbo, fading into shadow and out of existence forever. Mehera's faith in their universe is their last, desperate hope for salvation, because she's the only one with her foot in both worlds. Well, there is one other, but I don't want to say too much here. Suffice to say this is a concept that has broad literary, philosophical, and spiritual applications.

But more than that, it makes for interesting reading.

2)The Characters. I like Mehera. When you're writing a story about a girl who can't let go of fictional worlds, you definitely run the risk she'll come across like a self-absorbed snot (even if she is right). In DeMatteis' sensitive hands, though, her biggest flaw is also her saving grace. Mehera is a delightfully self-aware girl who knows the risk she's running. What that amounts to is this: when Mehera struggles to balance her faith in IMAGINALIS with her personal relationships, you'll root for her to make it work.

The other characters are engaging, too, from Mehera's inner circle to the Imaginalians. DeMatteis injects their backstories with elegant details, like when we discover that Celeste is the product of a union between an atheist and an interfaith minister. "I just can't figure out how that works," Mehera muses. Though it's never picked up again, it's an interesting detail that lends itself well to a recurring theme in the book: How do you make an 'impossible' relationship work?

That question manifests in a multitude of 'impossible' relationships: the cynic and the enthusiast, the fan and the recluse, the real and the imagined. It all comes down to the idea that the 'small' conflicts are every bit as important as the larger ones, and the choice is always ours what to make of them.

3)The Poetry. It's been said before, but DeMatteis' musical training lends itself to a rhythmic kind of prose-poetry. But it's the type of poetry that isn't afraid to let the characters speak in alternating high and low tides. Mehera can praise a stirring line from the books, "into the hope of night," or compare the villain Prayala's true form to an overflowing toilet. The result is something sometimes beautiful and always authentic.

I highly recommend Imaginalis, a fun read with a message of faith, hope and love.

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