A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
On a quiet street in a picturesque English seaside town, Kyra Sutton makes an extraordinary discovery that at first promises thrills and excitement, but will ultimately test the schoolgirl and her friends to the extreme. Her startling discovery will change the course of their lives … forever. Can they master their newfound supernatural gifts in time to prevent an already foreseen tragedy?
I have to confess two things at the start of this review. Actually, no, make that three things. Number One is that Lynda Mangoro is an online writing friend of mine; Number Two is that on principle I dislike Young Persons’ Literature, having thankfully grown out of being a Young Person myself many aeons ago; Number Three is that, dang and blast my principles, but I thought this book was great.
We’re straight into the action from the first page, with fourteen-year-old Kyra discovering her strange new gift of out-of-body flying. Or “dream riding” as it’s called here. It’s all new to her, which cleverly makes it all new to us too, thus allowing both protagonist and reader to find out what is happening, and to discover the magic of it, together. Kyra therefore is our guide into a strange, and very exciting, new world. Plus she’s a character you can’t help but warm to, being intelligent, clear-sighted and kind:
Mornings in the Sutton household were always hectic. Well, for Kyra at least. She seemed to have inherited the position of combined mother and maid by default. Nobody ever actually asked her to do anything. But her father didn’t have a clue about anything domestic and her brother seemed to live on another planet most of the time. So she wasn’t left with much choice. Either she took on the role or they all lived in complete chaos, and probably starved to death.
It’s not long before Kyra gathers round her group of friends, both old and new, to share this new gift with them and to explore the meaning behind it for them all. I thought the mix of people in the group was very clever – with the enthusiasm of Kyra’s best friend Lauren; the IT know-how of non-flyer and charmingly geeky Noah; and experienced dream-rider twins (and US newcomers to school) Crystal and Ray. They gelled very well together, with each character bringing their own individual skill to the group. In many ways, it’s like a modern equivalent of the Famous Five but (thankfully) without the dog.
Not only that but there’s a double, or maybe even triple, strand of very gripping plot to take into account. Noah is being hassled by the school bully, Marco, and the dream riding friends have to find a way to make him stop. However, it’s not that simple, and it’s here that Mangoro excels in opening up the child’s world to a more adult perspective; Marco has his own terrible problems that drive him to extreme measures and therefore becomes a fully-developed character in his own right, and not simply someone for the dream riders to fight against:
“Do you want some ketchup?” Marco asked his father, slicing the silence with his sudden words. The normality of his question failed to hide the strain in his voice, a fight between hope and anxiety. The hand he had extended with the offered bottle remained still for what seemed like minutes, despite the complete lack of response from his father.
At the same time, we have the mysterious “visitor” who is able to travel in time and is keeping his own eye on the new dream riding group. The chapters from the visitor’s point of view increase the tension greatly as he is able to see the terrible event that is about to take place and is desperately trying to find a way to prevent it:
The dread that clung to the visitor when he returned to his body was as unpleasant as the film of sweat that coated his skin. The first visit to a future event was always the hardest and the most frustrating. He couldn’t get close enough to see anything of importance.
On top of that, there are also the strange shadows that Kyra occasionally sees and which even Noah is unable to find out about. Why do they appear and what are their intentions? Here are the friends dream riding in the Natural History Museum:
It was in that moment, as they were all in high spirits and messing around, that the mysterious shapes appeared, three of them, drifting like ashy smoke around the room. They were roughly the size of people, but completely formless, constantly shifting as they hovered behind the T-Rex. A sudden change in atmosphere seemed to be directly linked to the dark shapes, as if they’d sucked all the light and joy from the room and were radiating the opposite, darkness and oppression.
So far so very good. But what also attracted me in this book is the way the very subtle life messages are conveyed: Kyra and her friends not only have adventures together, both large and small, but along the way they also learn valuable insights about love, friendship, family and how to deal with it, and the importance of not judging on appearances. I liked that – they’re important lessons for everyone, no matter how young or old you are.
And there is also of course the sheer magic and imagination of the dream riding skills that form the heart of the story. Here, Mangoro’s descriptions are both lyrical and clear, and reminded me very much in tone of that wonderful tale from my younger childhood, Ludo and the Star Horse.
The stunning sky beckoned her from beyond the pane of glass, its colour so intense it was mesmerising. She could see right into the blue, see particles of yellow and aquamarine and chalky white all moving together. She longed with every essence of her being to be amongst those colours, to move through them and feel the air whooshing past.
Oh and it’s funny too. Here’s Kyra dealing with family just after having discovered her wonderful gift:
She wanted to open her window and take off into the evening sky. She wanted to live her dream.
“Kyra?” her father’s voice boomed up the stairs again. “Hot chocolate’s ready.”
“Coming,” she called and sighed.
Flying would have to wait.
Brilliant. That said, there were a couple of issues I did have with Dream Riders: I think the situation with Marco came to its final conclusion too quickly and that could have been developed more effectively; and I wasn’t entirely convinced by Kyra’s visions of the “Golden Boy” or how he was used in the scene involving the shadows at the end. Both seemed slightly too slick to be realistic in the context of the story. But then again, I am an adult, and a young teenager might well think differently. I really have absolutely no knowledge about children. However, I do know what I like (as they say) and I was deeply heartened by the space in this story left for a follow-up. I’m hoping there will turn out to be a long-running series of dream riding adventures. More please.
Awakening of the Dream Riders by Lynda Louise Mangoro (Journeymakers Inc, 2009), ISBN: 978 0984114214)
[Anne is surprised to find that she can enjoy Young Persons’ Literature in spite of taking Cruella de Vil as a role model. To discover more of her positive childhood influences please click here. In the meantime and on a suitably spiritual note, The Prayer Seeker’s blog can be found here.]