The Tree of Mindala by Elle Jacklee.
Miranda Moon (almost 12) and younger brother Marcus are spending Halloween weekend at their grandparents’ cabin in the woods, abandoned since their disappearance several years earlier. When Miranda finds and shakes a snow globe she finds under the floor boards in their room, the children find themselves transported to the magical land of Wunderwood. They learn that Miranda’s turning the globe upside-down broke the magical bindings of the villainous Thornton, whom their grandparents – one from our world, one from Wunderwood – had trapped and bound years before. Before long, they are found by their grandmother’s sister, Raina. She begins training them in the magic that comes naturally to all Wunderwood natives, as well as introducing them to others in the ongoing movement to stop the evil Thornton. Because of the nature of the spell that had trapped him, people believe that Miranda is part of the potential solution as well. Thornton’s long-term mission has been to find the one tree in Wunderwood imbued with the life force of the whole wood, the Tree of Mindala, and use it to claim all magical power for himself.
This is a sweet yet exciting middle grade fantasy. Miranda is an imaginative girl who feels responsible for correcting the problems she unwittingly caused, even though she’s caught in a new world. It looks at the meaning of family from many different angles, from Miranda and Marcus’s initially argumentative relationship to the easy way in which they are embraced in Wunderwood by relatives they’d never known existed and the evil Thornton’s rejection of the family that raised him in favor of the politics of the blood father he didn’t know. I loved the magic of Wunderwood that permeates the world – I wish I had magical tree furniture that would make and rearrange itself to suit the current need! It’s obvious that Jacklee had a great time imagining the world and its magic system. She also comes up with an inventive solution for defeating the Big Bad that’s exciting without being too scary for younger middle grade readers, and manages prophecies without falling into the easy pitfalls of plot-by-prophecy.
There were a few things that I didn’t enjoy so much, though. The first third was layer upon layer of flashbacks, going back to Miranda’s past, as well as both the older and more recent history of Wunderwood, and I wanted to know what was happening in the present sooner. On a plot note, I was puzzled about why everyone thinks that Miranda is “Wunderwood’s Moon” as spoken of in prophecy, when Marcus and Miranda are both Moons who arrived in Wunderwood at the same time. Miranda’s character is more prone to action, but I was really puzzled by it turning into Miranda’s quest rather than a sibling quest. In the “I’m not sure whether this is good or bad” middle ground, usually in youth fantasy books, the kids are completely in charge of their actions. Even when adults are present, usually they either don’t get the grim reality (as in early Harry Potter) or defer to the younger people (as in Prydain). Here, however, while Miranda eventually finds and implement a solution herself, a lot of essential action is taken by the adults who are much more experienced magic users and have been working against Thornton for years. I’m still trying to decide if it would be better for Miranda to have more agency or if it’s cool that Jacklee shows a more realistic adult-adolescent situation. Ultimately, while I enjoyed The Tree of Mindala, I didn’t love it. I think I’m alone in this opinion, though, as all the people on Amazon and Goodreads did love it – so I do hope you’ll enter in my giveaway (open through this Sunday) for an ebook copy of it and make up your own mind.
This book was provided to me as an ebook by the author in exchange for an honest review. It’s available for purchase in print and ebook formats, but unlike most of the books I review here, is not yet available in public libraries.