The Cabinet of Earths
by Anne Nesbet
Intermediate Harper/HarperCollins 260 pp.
1/12 978-0-06-196313-1 $16.99
e-book ed. 978-0-06-209919-8 $8.99
“Well! It is better to read fairy tales than to find yourself caught in them,” Nesbet’s narrator declares, a predictor of what is to be found in the subsequent pages — for Nesbet’s story is a-shimmer with magic, in plot, characters, and literary style. In Paris with her family for a year, Maya is bemused by many things: her cousin Louise (“too vague to be properly ordinary” and “less notable than people usually are, somehow”); the door handle next door (a bronze salamander that actually flicks its tongue at her); and the discovery of an elderly relative, keeper of the mysterious Cabinet of Earths. Then there are her family worries: her frail mother, recovering from chemotherapy; her overly charming little brother…Maya finds herself pondering the values of liveliness and mortality in a life-or-death struggle when she becomes next Keeper of the Cabinet of Earths. Nesbet’s first novel is an impressive achievement, its substance and style gracefully blended. The bright, engaged narrative voice whisks us along with breezy, intelligent energy; words are neatly fitted, nicely unpredictable, and resonant with multiple meanings. Above all, Maya is a fully rounded, complex character, someone whose qualities and struggles are admirably and appealingly central to the fantasy.
From the January/February 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.