Lara Schiffbauer provides a quick paced, well thought-out contemporary fantasy adventure in Finding Meara. The story begins in the “normal” world where Hazel and her friend, Tavi finish a run. On her return to her apartment, Hazel’s world literally explodes as a monster blows her door out and flies away with her in his clutches through a portal into a fantasy world. Chaos ensues, adventure begins, relationships are forged and dangers loom.
So what sets Finding Meara apart? There is an ebb-and-flow between worlds. Often in these stories, you step through the proverbial looking glass and don’t return to the “real” world. People (and others) travel to and fro between Boulder, CO. and Adven Realm. Also, at least for me, I’ve read a lot of teens/pre-teens who are involved in these adventures; in this case, it’s a twenty-something, which lends a slightly different flavor. (Indeed, there are a couple of quick sexual references that you might not want your teen to read.) Another nice change of pace is that the protagonist Hazel and her companions are good. They aren’t perfect, but they aren’t bad with hidden good inside. They are willing to sacrifice for one another. I love that the humor is organic and natural to the story. Finally, the writing sets it apart. While it is conversational and casual, it’s matched exactly to the tone of the characters, the story, and the adventure. Ms. Schiffbauer eschews the oft-used convention of having the folks in the fantasy world talk as if they live in circa 1700 whilst the contemporary people sound as if they were unable to pass eighth-grade English. All speak in a reasonable contemporary manner. Finding Meara is a perfect example where the writing is great not because it’s quotable or perfect prose, but rather because it does its job – it deftly moves forward the story with solid dialog between the characters.
I’ve read a number of novels lately where the protagonist just isn’t an enjoyable character; not so here. Hazel is more than just nice, she’s interesting, likable and willing to lead her own life without being unrealistically brave or clever. She’s fully human, with a number foibles, but is, on the whole, someone you would like to have as a friend. You have an opportunity to see her grow throughout the story.
What did I love about Finding Meara?
- a likable protagonist who doesn’t seem to have an ax to grind, but is fully her own person.
- Good “good guys”
- Genuine dialog, settings and people. You didn’t get a sense of anything artificial about this made up world or the characters who people it.
- Smart, diverse action that fit together into a single story.
- It was just plain fun to read. Ms. Schiffbauer never had to use artificial literary tricks to get the reader to stay with the story. It was never a question of “finiding out what happened next” but always a desire to delve more into the story and the people.
- Fredrick (wild “cat” extraordinaire)
What was I less fond of?
- Hazel’s fairly impatient with her relationships. It seems like if there’s any lack of clarity from the guy, it’s off. Maybe you might expect that from a teenage girl, but not a woman in her twenties.
- There’s a point where Hazel comes to realize how much she cares about Quinn (a younger boy and family relation), but there was little real build up to this moment. Unlike most of the story, the familial affection seemed to just happen and didn’t feel organic.
- There’s a scene that involves an invisible fence and dogs; I don’t think they have quite the power suggested in the story.
Clearly those are quibbles. Overall, this is a fun read with smart writing, a real protagonist, loyal friends and well-paced action. Saying any more would involve spoilers. Besides, the joy of reading Finding Meara isn’t in any one element of the book. Dissecting each aspect belies the fact that it’s how the whole comes together. In this case, the whole is greater than it’s parts. So, just buy & read the book. You’ll be glad you did.
Writing – 4/5 stars
World/Setting – 3.5/5
Characters/Relationships – 4/5
Narrative – 4.5/5