Friday, April 23, 2010

Book Review: The Owl Keeper by Christine Brodien-Jones

Maxwell Unger has always loved the night. He used to do brave things like go tramping through the forest with his gran after dark. He loved the stories she told him about the world before the Destruction—about nature, and books, and the silver owls. His favorite story, though, was about the Owl Keeper.

According to Max’s gran, in times of darkness the Owl Keeper would appear to unite owls and sages against the powers of the dark. Gran is gone now, and so are her stories of how the world used to be. Max is no longer brave. The forest is dangerous, the books Gran had saved have been destroyed, and the silver owls are extinct. At least that’s what the High Echelon says. But Max knows better.

Maxwell Unger has a secret. And when a mysterious girl comes to town, he might just have to start being brave again.

The time of the Owl Keeper, Gran would say, is coming soon.


Though this is a middle grade novel with a main character who is 11, close to 12, this book is certainly not written on a elementary level. The writing is strong and the descriptions thorough, giving a great overall image and making it enjoying for readers of all ages. Particularly for this book, the age choice works beautifully, pulling the story in a way it wouldn't otherwise go if the main character was even just a few years older.

Max leads a unique life even in this dystopian setting, confined inside during the daytime because he has an especially rare genetic disease that renders him allergic to sun particles. Any sunlight will kill him, making him a creature of the night and cut off from school and therefore, most friends. As a result, his primary interaction is with his caretaker, seeing his parents only in the evenings after work. Naturally, this effects his personality and his view on things but after the introduction of Rose, a runaway girl about his age who is certainly unique and quarky, Max's eyes begin to open.

This is where his age plays such a central role. Still more boy than teenager and holding a certain level of inherent immaturity, Max has to wrestle with plenty of questions- and any sort of upstart and betrayal will shake his world far more drastically than it would a teenager. Also with this age, however, is a certain desire to be brave and grown up, still harboring some of the childlike drive to grow up too fast yet also lacking the know it all attitude of an early teenager. It is a very refreshing mix, creating a strong central character who a reader of any age will come to like quickly and effectively.

As the story progresses, the full extent of the world Brodien-Jones has created is slowly developed and exposed, blindsiding the reader sometimes as strongly as Max himself. Secrets are kept, being revealed to the reader sometimes at the same time as the characters, showing Brodien-Jones' strong writing and crafting skills are. The owl aspect of this book is especially intriguing, as it makes the entire world incredibly unique. While some elements can be seen in other novels and the other idea of an overcontrolling government is common, the reasons and motivation behind this particular government's action is refreshing and original.

Though owls have shown up in books before, they play a different role in this book and the entire interaction and connection throughout keeps the reader involved. Max and Rose face some very unsettling situations, instilling fear in them both and though Max was relatively whiny, it is certainly to be expected in an 11 year old thrust into some of these scenarios. Brodien-Jones did a fantastic job creating a young character that was bold and brave but still true to an 11/12 year old.

With stunning takes and variations on elements present in modern times, strong and well crafted writing, and a young but fantastically developed main character, Brodien-Jones has made an amazing addition to the dystopian genre. She certainly raises many questions and shifts frames of mind throughout the book, keeping the mystery and intrigue strong right until the last page.

Source: Finished copy received for review from author/published
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (April 13, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0385738145
ISBN-13: 978-0385738149


  1. Nice review! The world in The Owl Keeper sounds awesome and I like the unique sound of owls in this book!


  2. Great review. I'm been meaning to read this book but I was having second thoughts. Mainly because I knew the character was so young. But it sounds like a great read.

  3. I've heard about that sun particle allergy - I didn't realize this book was about that. It sounds great!

  4. This is the second review I have read about this book and I am completely taken with how each review is so taken with he book. I am definitely getting this one to read and share with my middle schoolers. Thanks for the lovely review.

  5. thanks for the review --definately added to the pile for my dd.

  6. AMAZING review! (I wish I could write like you, hehe. I bet you're going to be just as amazing when you get published).

    You've got me pining after this one like a slobbering dog now. Thanks! :P :D