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Behind the Bookcase by Mark Steensland

Behind the Bookcase

by Mark Steensland

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This was very much like Jacqueline West's The Books of Elsewhere, but weirder. A sort of creepy, alternate dimension of an alternate dimension.


Sarah's weird grandmother has died and now she and her family have to spend the summer fixing up her strange house to sell. Sarah actually kind of liked her grandmother, at least what she knew of her through their letters back and forth, but it's obvious that Mom has some unresolved issues.

Then Sarah discovers a secret world behind the bookcase in her room. Some parts of it are mysterious and beautiful, but more of it is terrifying and creepy, like the blemmyes or the sentinels who carry their heads in their hands. Luckily, she meets of the King of the Cats, Balthazat, who offers to help guide her through the mysterious land of Scotopia if she will just let him visit her own world.

There are plenty of hints in the text as to what happens next of course - Balthazat is lying and Sarah finds that her grandmother's house is actually a kind of Limbo for the dead. There's also another parallel world to Scotopia, in her brother Billy's room, but the angel-like creatures there aren't able to help her defeat Balthazat, after he gains an entrance into her world. It will take all of Sarah's courage and help from some friends to escape Scotopia and take her rightful place as her grandmother's heir and guide the dead on to their next resting place.

There is a lot of symbolism and contextual hints in this book. The blemmyes are creatures from medieval myth, whose heads are in the center of their chests. Scotopia, "the land where shadows come from" is actually a Greek word that means to see the in the dark. Balthazat is a thinly disguised version of Satan - he "falls" from Ormaz (which is full of light, clouds, and winged creatures) to rule his own realm of shadows. He's definitely a great deceiver and takes in everyone who visits his land, trying to get them to allow him to visit their own world and taking them prisoner when they don't help him. Penumbra, a sort of Limbo for the dead, is another shadow-related word. It basically means "the place between full light and full shadow" i.e. the place between Ormaz and Scotopia.

The thing is, I'm not sure what the point of all this is. Yes, Sarah has an adventure, one that's creepy, weird, sad, and frightening at various points and at the end realizes its her duty to take over her grandmother's place and guard the house which is a sort of portal for the dead, but it all seems rather....pointless. The big climactic finish is when Sarah uses the "undoer" (which is basically a pen) and sends everyone back where they should be...which basically means they are back at the beginning, only the prisoners Balthazar took have returned home. Sarah seems much more casual than you'd expect about becoming tied for life to a strange house and being though crazy by, well, everyone except maybe her younger brother. At the very end, she's going down to show her parents Penumbra and the ghosts, but there's no guarantee they'll actually see them, especially since her mother lived with her grandmother for years and just thought she was crazy (and had a miserable childhood as a result). Of course, a lot of these objections are from the viewpoint of an adult reader. But I think even kids are not going to be wowed by this rather meandering series of creepy adventures.

Verdict: The problem is, the story isn't creepy-scary or creepy-silly - it's just...creepy. The kind of thing that makes you feel nervous and depressed for hours after you finish it. I noticed that most of the reviews are from teen or adult authors and I really don't think this is a book that will really appeal to its middle grade audience. Some kids might enjoy the strange creatures and a lot of the adventure part is pretty well done, but overall I would recommend getting Jacqueline West's series for all your creepy fantasy needs and leave it at that.

ISBN: 9780385740715; Published by Delacorte/Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher
  JeanLittleLibrary | Feb 10, 2014 |
Reviewed by Avery, age 9
This book is about a little girl who goes to spend the summer with her grandmother and isn’t too excited about it. That is until she finds an old letter her grandmother wrote that talks about strange things behind the bookcase. Of course she has to see for herself and what she discovers is more then she could ever have imagined.
Read the full review at http://www.musingwithcrayolakym.com/3/post/2013/08/behind-the-bookcase.html ( )
  crayolakym | Aug 4, 2013 |
This was a wonderfully creative magical adventure. It was exactly the type of book I would've loved when I was young. I enjoyed it even now as an adult. Mark Steensland has created some interesting worlds and unusual characters from cloud people to walking hands with one eye in the middle of their palms to creatures made of ink that can take any shape they like.

Secrets passageways in a creepy old house, revelations about the grandmother they thought they knew, and a desperate mission to save the world after being tricked by an evil, shapeshifting monster, Behind the Bookcase is packed full of adventure and excitement. Young Sarah learns that she can face her fears and work with her little brother Billy, as well as new and unusual friends that she makes along the way, as they work together to thwart the plans of the evil King of Scotopia. A delightful book that would make a great family read. I loved it! ( )
  LongDogMom | Jul 5, 2013 |
This was his first book. You can tell. ( )
  TheMadHatters | Mar 22, 2013 |
Background: Sarah and Billy are brother and sister and have come to their grandmothers old house to pack it up to sell it with their parents. The problem is, that while there, the children find out that behind the bookcases are secret passageways to other worlds and that their grandmother had a very important job to do.

Review: Go get this book for yourself, your children, your grandparents, it is adorable and full of surprises. There are illustrations throughout the book and they just add to its wonder. I loved the characters, Sarah and Billy act their ages and are also brave and defiant. The plot is adorable and I absolutely loved it. I am a huge fan of books and bookcases and I think that it would be amazing if there really were other worlds behind them, kind of like a play on books themselves- you can dive right into something completely different. I think that this book is great for all ages. I received an e-copy to review, but immediately went out and bought the hardback. I plan on passing it along to my sister and then friends. So cute! ( )
  sszkutak | Oct 17, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385740719, Hardcover)

A girl stumbles into a fantastic world in this tale perfect for fans of Coraline, Alice in Wonderland, and The Twilight Zone.

Spending the summer at her grandmother's house is the last thing Sarah wants to do—especially now that Grandma Winnie has died—but she has no choice. Her parents have to fix the place up before they can sell it, and Sarah and her brother, Billy, have to help. But the tedious work turns into a thrilling mystery when Sarah discovers an unfinished letter her grandmother wrote: Strange things are happening behind the bookcase. . . . 

Sarah's mother dismisses the letter as one of Grandma Winnie's crazy stories, but Sarah does some investigating and makes a remarkable discovery: behind the bookcase is a doorway into Scotopia, the land where shadows come from. With a talking cat named Balthazat as her guide, Sarah begins an unforgettable adventure into a world filled with countless dangers. Who can she trust? And can she face her fears, not only in Scotopia, but also back at Grandma Winnie's house, where more secrets and strange goings-on await her?

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 24 Nov 2015 01:09:20 -0500)

Sarah, her brother Billy, and her parents are moving into her deceased grandmother's house for the summer in order to fix it up and sell it, but this is a house of locked rooms and many dark and dangerous secrets.

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