Monday, May 10, 2010

Middle-Grade Monday: The Neverending Story

The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende

Publisher: Doubleday, Penguin, and Dutton Children’s Books
Pages: 396
Reading Level: Middle Grade and Up
Enjoyment Level: Highest

I’ve had to give this review a little more care and consideration due to the fact that the book is so near and dear to my heart. I don’t remember the exact circumstances under which I picked it up, but it was after I saw the movie (both one and two). I much, much prefer the book. Recently, I finally got a hardcover copy for my collection, and since it’s Children’s Book Week, I felt it was the right time to get a review in of The Neverending Story.

Bastian is a lonely boy who runs into a bookshop when bullies are chasing him. At the bookshop, he meets an old man, has an interesting discussion, and steals a book that intrigues him. Feeling like the worst person in the world, but needing to read the book, Bastian skips school that day, sitting up in an old attic. He is drawn into the world of Fantastica, where their Empress is dying. As he follows the adventure of Atreyu, who is trying to save the Empress, Bastian realizes that he’s become part of the adventure, and it’s his action that will save or destroy Fantastica.

Anyone who claims to be a fan of YA literature should have read this book already. Even if you don’t like it (which would surprise me), it’s one work of fiction that is very important in the young readers’ market. As important a work as the Harry Potter novels. Why? Because it is the epitome of imagination-on-paper.

Despite its whimsical surface, the story touches on loneliness, neglect, choice, and self-confidence, as well as the ever-declining world of imagination. Bastian must save Fantastica, a world where all stories live, breathe, and interact. He discovers that it’s a world constantly battled by cynicism and “grown-up” worries. Nothing is the major enemy: a villain full of emptiness and despair.

The story is inundated by wonderful, memorable characters who help Bastian on his way to self-discovery and strength. They are all able to give readers the opportunity to remember childhood (if they are grown-ups) and enhance imagination. As Tolkien said, writers are sub-creators, and a world built well will feel real. The Neverending Story is exactly that, with characters in Fantastica that make you believe they exist somewhere.

If you can’t tell, I highly recommend this book. It’s not the easiest book to procure, since it’s been out of print for a while, but if you have a chance, get it. Then read it to yourself. Read it to a child. Everyone who believes in the power of imagination will help save Fantastica for another day.

Welcome to Children’s Book Week.

~ Vilate

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