Book Review: Storybound by Marissa Burt

by Marissa Burt
Harper Collins Children’s Books
April 3, 2012
416 pages
Source DAC ARC Tour

In the land of Story, children go to school to learn to be characters: a perfect Hero, a trusty Sidekick, even the most dastardly Villain. They take classes on Outdoor Experiential Questing and Backstory, while adults search for full-time character work in stories written just for them.

In our world, twelve-year-old Una Fairchild has always felt invisible. But all that changes when she stumbles upon a mysterious book buried deep in the basement of her school library, opens the cover, and suddenly finds herself transported to the magical land of Story.

But Story is not a perfect fairy tale. Una’s new friend Peter warns her about the grave danger she could face if anyone discovers her true identity. The devious Tale Keeper watches her every move. And there are whispers of a deadly secret that seems to revolve around Una herself….

With the timeless appeal of books like A Wrinkle in Time and the breathtaking action of Inkheart, Storybound has all the makings of a new classic. Brimming with fantastical creatures, magical adventure, and heart-stopping twists, Storybound will leave readers wishing they too could jump through the pages into this enchanting fairy-tale world.(taken from Goodreads.)

My Take On It

Storybound by Marissa Burt was the first book I was sent to review as part of the DAC ARC Tour, so I was doubly excited when the book arrived, straight from the author with a very cute owl-themed note card saying hello.  One of the main reasons I wanted to read the book was because it is a MG book, and I have a 9 year old son who is really into reading. I was hoping that we could read and review the book jointly. But the book is quite big, 416 pages, and he wasn’t able to read it in the time I was allotted before I had to send it on to the next person in the tour. And I would have liked his perspective because while I really enjoyed certain aspects of Storybound, it unfortunately didn’t pan out to be the book I had hoped for. So let’s hit the parts I enjoyed first, then I’ll present the other side:
The premise of this book, a lonely bookish girl who has been moved in and out of foster homes her whole life, finds herself magically transported to the world of Story where all the characters in our favorite stories live studying and training to be the heroes, villains and monsters that we read about in our world. The MC, Una, has been Written In,  meaning someone from Story has found a way to write her into a story and bring her over. This is something that hasn’t been done for as long as anyone can remember, and presents one of many mysteries Una must try to unravel in order to return home to the “real” world. While being transported to a fantasy world may not be original, the concept of being Written In (and Written Out) is.  I thought this was pretty clever and really admire Burt’s imaginative ideas.
     The world of Story was pretty cool as well. The characters in Story were divided by genre, there were people from Fantasy, Modern and so on. The kids in Story go to a magical boarding school (a lá Hogwarts) where they take training classes and are then tested on them in a practical exam. We are fist introduced to Peter, a would be hero, and Snow, a lady in training. Along the way we meet other cast members including talking cats, evil villains, and witches. My favorite character, and perhaps the most mysterious, was Endeavor Truepenny. If only he wasn’t nicknamed Indy. No one other than Harrison Ford should ever be called that.
      This story had a lot of twists and turns in it, and I will say that when the largest twist was revealed near the end, I was genuinely surprised.  This book is in some ways comparable to the Harry Potter novels in that it’s not dumbed down for the young reader, for whom it is marketed. It takes on some complicated issues and assumes (rightly so in my opinion) that the MG reader can handle it. And it does this by putting that reader is a setting they most often like reading about, a fantasy setting with magic and curses and powers of good versus powers of evil.
     But that it is where the similarities to the H. Potters series ends. Although the premise was unique, I found myself struggling on many levels with this book.  One of my first gripes has to do with the way character’s view points are written and presented. Now, let me again reiterate that I read an ARC of Storybound, and there could be changes in the final copy. But the ARC that I read told the story from multiple points of view. This in itself is great. I love reading books with multiple pov’s. But in Storybound there was no clear delineation between narrators. Most books I have read that use this type narration will divide up each character’s view by chapter. Sometimes they even title the chapter with that character’s name, so you know without a doubt to whom you are listening. Other books will assign fonts to each narrator, so when you see the bold font you know Madame X is speaking. When you see the italicized you know it is another speaker. Storybound did neither. The majority of the book is narrated by Una. But Peter and Snow also narrate at times. Sometimes the switching of narrators would take place mid page and mid chapter, and I would have to stop and re-read to try and determine who I was listening to. This made reading a 400+ book arduous to say the least.
     Another problem I had was character development. We get to know a lot of characters in Storybound,  but I don’t feel we ever get to know any of them particularly well. Even Una, who is the mc, never felt fully fleshed out to me. After reading The Sorcerer’s Stone, I knew who Harry Potter was. I understood why Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger acted as they did. I understood the type character Draco Malfoy was. But I never felt that connection to any of Storybound’s characters. They were all very two dimensional to me. The character I see with the most potential is Truepenny, and maybe he works for me because he is supposed to be mysterious, we aren’t meant to know everything about him yet.
        The complex story arcs, the history of The Muses, the rise in power of The Tale Keepers, and the mystery of Una’s family all  became very complicated and tangled and try as I might, I found myself unable to straighten out everything so that it made sense to me. The result was that I kind of gave up trying to understand. This, along with the underdeveloped characters and confusing narration,  made Storybound a disappointing read.
        While reading Storybound and thinking about writing the review, I asked myself if maybe I was just being too hard on the book, after all, I am not a middle grade reader. I wondered if I was being unfair, if it was someone my son’s age reading it, would they find the book to be more appealing than I did? And then I remember that there are many MG books out there that I have read and LOVED. Not to keep making comparisons to Harry Potter, but that series started out for MG readers and you probably can guess how much I loved those; and then there is the Percy Jackson series, which ROCKS; The 39 Clues books; and old classics like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle; and my personal favorite, The Ghost Next Door by Wylly Folk St. John, the book that got me into reading when I was the same age my son is now.  All these books are geared toward the tween-age reader. And all of those books I consider to be masterpieces, classics both old and new, books that I can read and love alongside my boys, and hopefully alongside their children one day. And as much as I love the concept and enjoy Burt’s writing, because she does write well, I just can’t put Storybound  in the same category as those books listed above. This book is part of a planned series, the sequel Story’s End will be released in early 2013, so perhaps I will check back to see how the story develops. And I would definitely try another book by Marisa Burt because I think she has a terrific imagination and shows real promise as a writer. Storybound was a miss for me but could be a hit for you, so I encourage you to give it a try and form your own opinion.
2.5/ 5 Stars