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For Young Readers by Lindsey & Paige Oliver

‘Mirrormask’ — a fantasy that engages

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Posted: July 7, 2007 3:08 p.m.
Updated: July 22, 2007 5:00 a.m.
    It is rare these days to find a picture book that is accessible to all ages.  Even rarer is a book with unique art and unique story that engages readers.  “Mirrormask,” the brain child of author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Dave McKean, does all this and more.              “Mirrormask” is a unique fantasy book that does not feel like fantasy.  Despite the fact that much of the story takes place in an alternate world, the perspective of the main character, Helena, gives the story a surprisingly normal feeling that even people who dislike fantasy can identify with.
    At the book’s outset, Helena’s life is anything but normal.  Her parents both run and are a part of a struggling circus; the fact that Helena is forced to participate does not improve her view of them.  Helena has an argument with her mother, who subsequently falls ill.  Feeling responsible, Helena can do nothing but worry as her mother prepares to have an operation.  On the night before the surgery, Helena is awakened by the sound of a violin.  She leaves her room, going outside to find  the source of the sound.  Unwittingly, Helena leaves behind her world as well, and becomes caught up in a struggle of darkness versus light,  as her own identity is stolen from her in her own world.  With the help of memorable characters and creatures who can only be described as outrageously bizarre, Helena must find a “charm” which will awaken the queen of the Light realm and restore the tentative balance between good and evil.
    One of the most memorable aspects of “Mirrormask” is its art.  Dave McKean is a talented and inimitable artist, with sharp ink figures that are both unusual and a delight to see.  The typeset of the text also changes, growing smaller or larger and even changing entirely to suit the situation.  In books, the actual type has never been so entertaining as it is in “Mirrormask.”  All this, combined with images from the “Mirrormask” movie, gives entertainment to the eyes as well as the mind.
    Like any book, “Mirrormask” has its quirks.  It should be noted that it is an eighty-page novella, and may present problems for readers with short attention spans.  Dry prose, Neil Gaiman’s trademark, may deter other potential readers.  But these points are far outweighed by the good attributes of “Mirrormask,” and many readers can testify to the positives.
    Despite Mirrormask’s few peculiarities, the book is a highly original piece that creates a different world instead of simply telling about one.  Neil Gaiman does not make the mistake many fantasy writers make.  He does not become too involved in the story and forget to include readers; the story was clearly written for his audience, and this makes “Mirrormask” a fun and affecting book to read.
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