The Secret Library

Candlewick. May 2024. 384p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781536230888.
Gr 4-7–Delilah “Dally” Peteharrington is grieving the loss of her beloved grandpa, who provided some respite and fun from her mother’s strict schedule to prepare the biracial 11-year-old for the family business. The enigmatic map he left just for his granddaughter sends her on a sojourn into the city, with the destination being a secret library only a chosen few can enter. Jennacake, the librarian, shows her that the secret library is a place of secrets. By selecting books that give her a particular word, feeling, or date in time, Dally enters a fantastical adventure through her family’s history. Reminiscent of entering Narnia, the secret portal in this middle grade fantasy takes readers on an engaging journey through time and place, unfolding generations of experiences both delightful and concerning. Dally’s introspective nature means she recognizes her privilege and this encourages readers to reflect upon the secrets unveiled. The nonlinear plot takes place across varied periods in time, propelling readers into situations involving friendships, family, slavery, pirating, theft, colorism, LGBTQIA+ profiles, gender discussions, and the pure joy of spending time with someone gone eternally. Humor breaks up the heavier topics, and the character duo of Dally and fellow traveler Jack is particularly endearing. A twist near the end will solicit assorted reactions and makes for a fantastic writing prompt for tweens.
VERDICT Magical and reflective; a first purchase for stronger readers.

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