The Forest in the Hallway by Gordon Smith;
Clarion Books: New York, zoo6; $16
You can’t judge a book by its cover. How many times have you heard that phrase? Still, when I picked up The Forest in the Hallway, I took a good look at the cover and thought, Looks OK. I was incredibly, absolutely wrong. I was expecting an average fantasy book. This one is extraordinary.
The wonder begins in the first eight pages, where Gordon Smith introduces Beatriz. She seems like a nice, normal girl in a bad situation. Her parents have recently disappeared. Not a lot of details about her are given, but, in that first chapter, I get the feeling that she's a sweet, smart, obedient girl.
Beatriz reacts to her problems the same way I would. She deals with her loneliness and fear by thinking and watching the city outside her window, as well as thinking sarcastic things about her Uncle M, who's taking care of her.
When a strange face tells her to go to the nineteenth floor, she does, seeking adventure. Here, in a forest-like hallway, she meets the great character of Death, who needs some help collecting a witch. Death is a perfect mix of creepiness and humor. He's funny, and almost kind, but continually reminds Beatriz that he is Death with small, unsettling habits and comments (for example, he wears a black, hooded robe).
Other fabulous characters are Rose, a winged woman, and her two children, Pyramus and Thisby. Rose is sarcastic and tough, and her wings at first unsettle Beatriz. However, it's clear she loves her children and wants to help. Pyramus and Thisby are silly, kind children. They remind me of Sarah and Claire, two little girls in my neighborhood who treat me like I'm their best friend and are always eager to share things with me. I think it's very realistic that these two enthusiastic kids are even bored by their adventure. I am especially fond of Pyramus and Thisby because I'm in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, where two characters are named Pyramus and Thisby.
This book touches on some big issues. For example, Beatriz is at first afraid of Rose, Pyramus, and Thisby, because they have wings. I think this is how the author mentions the issue of racism. By allowing Beatriz to gradually become good friends with Rose and her children, he also shows that it's silly to fear people who look different.
However, it's the little touches that really bring this book to life, for example, "Beatriz loved animals. She wouldn't even kill insects, but she made an exception for mosquitoes." I have said the exact same thing to some of my friends. I'm a vegetarian, but I loathe mosquitoes.
This book is hilarious. I laughed out loud at least five times while reading it. Angela, the villain, is a great character. She's distinctly evil, but funny, with traits such as wearing really ugly clothes (think miniskirt, pink fuzzy sweater and white tights). She's much more realistic than a villain who's just cruel.
I heartily recommend this book to everyone. The journey of one normal girl through a host of hilariously harrowing adventures will fascinate you through its humor, imagery, character, and details.