Review written by Jonathan Lavallee.
The Great Good Thing tells the story of Sylvie; she’s a 12 year old princess and has been for the last 80 years. When you’re a character in a book, you say your lines in the appropriate places and you get to where you need to go in order to keep the story moving. You tell the same story whenever a Reader opens the book, you have your role and you play it to the best of your ability just like every other character in the story. Most of the characters seem to enjoy it, but Sylvie is starting to find the role a bit chafing—after all, it is her nature to want to explore and be courageous.
Of course, there aren’t many Readers around lately. Until one day when a Reader shows up, and she loves the book. She reads it again, and again, and again and Sylvie finds herself doing more and more work and getting more opportunities to take a peek at The Reader. Sylvie gets drawn into The Reader’s life and eventually into her memories as Sylvie—and most of the people in the castle—find themselves in The Reader’s Memories.
It’s a story about change, a story about memory, and a story about what the books might do when we’re not reading the books themselves. It’s a fun read, particularly for your younger tween just getting into longer books. There’s some action, but it’s never too intense and never leaves you too worried about the characters. It’s written in a very simple style, and the version I read had larger text with fairly wide margins—so if you’ve got a not-so-confident reader, they’ll fly through this book, which might help build some of that confidence up. It’s a fine quick read for older tweens but they might get put off by the layout and font size in the book.
The plot isn’t very straightforward, because it’s not a typical adventure tale about trying to overcome adversity to win; the plot is about what characters do in order to keep the story alive. There are some sections that might be a bit confusing as to what’s going on, but they’re short and easily talked about. Ultimately, this is a fine quick book for a tween; it isn’t too heavy on the didactic scale, or filled with things you should worry about when it comes to your tween reading it.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
The book features a lot of dying. Not necessarily on the part of the characters in the story, but the Readers die. Claire, the Reader you are first introduced to, reads the book because her Grandmother used to read it and her Grandmother is currently dying. After the book gets burned, the characters survive by entering Claire’s memory. When Claire lays dying, Sylvie manages to get herself over to the memory of Lily, Claire’s daughter. This is a big moment in the story, and you get to read about Claire’s deathbed. Dying is a very integral part of the tension in the story, and they don’t shy away from it.
Family is not seen in a positive light in the book. Claire’s brother Ricky burns the book out of anger and spite, he feels that his grandmother loves Claire more than him, and when Claire is on her deathbed Ricky becomes that creepy uncle who has got a million get-rich-quick schemes if only she’ll sign the mortgage for the house.
Later on, when Lily starts writing the story again, there’s a mention that her husband isn’t pleased with the new turn of events. He was happy that she kept her writing “habit” to two manageable hours and was still around to have things ready for him, and now that she’s working on what she wants to do, he’s displeased that he has to do things like get his own coffee or find his own food.
This is a great book to suggest to your early tween. It’s a quick read if they’re a voracious reader, and it’s a good confidence builder if they’re uncertain about their own ability to read independently. It’s got a great story that talks about things like memory, and stories, and the process of writing in a fun fictionalized way. There isn’t a lot to worry about as far as the content goes, and the story moves at a good pace with only a few bumps along the way.
The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley
Published in 2002 by Aladdin Paperbacks (Imprint of Simon & Schuster)
First in a series
Read hard copy