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I read this one to Lilah immediately following ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY, and the initial comparison is not great. WHERE ARE THE GIRLS? Like LEMONCELLO, this one is clearly geared toward the boy reluctant reader, but where LEMONCELLO had a couple of girl characters who actually did things, this one has Maid Marian and Pollyanna, who are really window dressing, and the little sister of Walter, Billy’s new friend. Right, the plot. Billy goes with his mom to live at a cabin by a lake for the summer while she works on her dissertation and she and his dad have some time apart. He is horrified to learn there is no television and he manages to break his iPhone. Oh no! He will have to resort to reading the gorgeous books in the locked bookcase! (I realize I’m abusing sarcasm at this point, but that’s the effect this book had on me.)

He reads one of the books and hears some strange sounds coming from the island in the lake. Hercules has come to life on the island. And he’s not the last. The Three Musketeers (and D’Artagnan), Robin Hood and Maid Marian (and, unfortunately, the Sheriff of Nottingham), Tom Sawyer, and Pollyanna quickly follow. Oh, and Jack, the guy with the beanstalk. Lilah and I both really enjoyed the scenes of the characters from different books interacting, actually. And the premise! What a premise. Execution was middling, but I’m giving it three stars for a fabulous premise and the scenes where Hercules has joined the Merry Men (and Billy’s promotion to Sir William of Goat – trust me, it’s hilarious).

Why is all this happening? Dr. Libris, the owner of the cabin is conducting a study of dubious ethical quality (seriously, how did he get funding for this? must be from an evil conglomerate). He thinks Billy’s imagination makes him a great candidate. Billy’s imagination brings the books to life with theta waves pseudosciencebabble. This is very cool, but Billy’s friend Walter is also able to bring characters to life (not even characters from books – a character from his Magic: The Gathering knockoff game) but only while on the island. Even the bully brings a video-game character to life from the cheat guide he carries around. I had a problem with this internal consistency. Why make such a big deal out of the locked bookcase if anyone can bring any character from any written material to life by standing on the island and reading? Dr. Libris’s experiment notes were rather intrusive to me as well.

Billy meets a Mean Kid who is the archetype of bullies everywhere. No nuance here. This kid shows up to create false suspense while Billy and Walter have their adventures. Alyssa, Walter’s little sister, is actually a lot of fun, but she’s barely in the book. They fob her off on Pollyanna to babysit. So that’s what you do with girl characters. Have them babysit. Anyway, Billy also cooks up a ridiculous PARENT TRAP kind of plot involving pretending that Billy has fallen off a cliff) when his dad visits the island. This is utterly ridiculous and distracting. Dr. Libris finally shows up to do a mad-scientist kind of rant and then fly off in his helicopter.

Still, the scenes with the various characters interacting are magical and fun, and there’s a lot to like here, even with all this infuriating mess.

Source disclosure: Lilah received this book as a gift.