Title: The Spindlers
Author: Lauren Oliver
Illustrator: Iacopo Bruno
Pages: 246 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, c2012.
One night when Liza went to bed, Patrick was her chubby, stubby, candy-grubbing and pancake-loving younger brother, who irritated and amused her both, and the next morning, when she woke up, he was not.
She could not describe the difference. He looked the same, and was wearing the same pair of ratty space-alien pajamas, with the same fat toe sticking out of the hole in the left foot of his red socks, and he came down the stairs exactly the same way the real Patrick would have done: bump, bump, bump, sliding on his rump.
But he was not the same.
In fact, he was quite, quite different. (1-2)
Liza quickly realizes that Patrick’s soul had been taken by spindlers, spider-like creatures her babysitter warned them out. Spindlers steal children’s souls and lay their eggs in the hallowed out shell, where they will grow until they hatch and burst forth as the body finally crumbles to dust. Intent to rescue her brother’s soul and save him, even though he could be annoying sometimes, Liza ventures Below to find the spindlers. Armed only with a broom, and with the help of a very strangely dressed rat Mirabella, Liza is led through deadly traps and creatures. But while in the dark Below, things aren’t always what they appear to be, as Liza quickly discovers that she might have put herself in more danger than she first realized to rescue her brother.
I have to give props to Lauren Oliver for her creativity. She starts the story off strong with a creepy, creative creature.The spindlers aren’t the only odd-ball animals that occupy Below, as Liza is introduced to nocturni, nids, troglods, lumpen, scawgs (who remind me very much of Greek sirens mixed with Circe), and living forests, in addition to talking, fashionably dressed rat Mirabelle. The introduction of the human characters is also done very well, from loving Liza to possessed Patrick spelling out “I Hate You” with his cereal and even the distracted parents who don’t believe Liza’s story. I like how Liza’s information about the spindlers comes from a babysitter, which lends some credibility for readers who also believe what their babysitters say but still gives a glimmer that it might be made up. Until — of course — Liza literally drops into Below and begins her search.
It’s in that way that Oliver also has an eye for how kids see the world. They could be somewhat skeptical about the babysitters tale, or they could believe it whole heartedly. Another instance of this understanding is when Liza finds the marketplace Below and they are using scrap pieces of paper as currency. “Liza was going to point out that in her world people used real money, not just worthless slips of paper, but it occurred to her that she wasn’t actually certain of the difference, so she said nothing.” (47) Rereading it still makes me smile.
I found myself skipping ahead to see what other weird things came about. The climax is maybe a bit overdone with lots of things happening in the span of a few pages, but no one can say it isn’t action packed, that’s for certain. Overall it’s a good book, probably not a top ten of the year but I can easily see myself recommending it to others who might be looking for this type of thing. The best way I can describe it is a darker, modern day version of Alice in Wonderland.