Book Review: Dormia, Jake Halpern

Dormia, Jake Halpern & Peter Kujawinksi
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 528 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (May 4, 2009)
Language: English
Rating: 3.5 stars

Amazon Rating: 5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 3.79 stars

From Booklist:
". . . this is an adventure yarn that takes its time, building mild suspense that does not overwhelm the progress of the tale. It is old-fashioned storytelling, ably done, where action supports story development rather than substituting for it. This fantasy is a wonderful intergenerational read-along and is a strong choice for readers still mourning the end of the Harry Potter books."
Most apropos in the Booklist review are the terms "old-fashioned storytelling," and "read-along." This is not a book in which the reader becomes immersed in the story from the view point of the main character. Instead, this is a book that tells you a story, and as such, is best read aloud.  The character interaction is fairly simplistic, often times using conversation to explain what actions will be taken next. While annoying to my adult brain, it makes it easier for kids on the younger side of the age range to follow along, and by the time you're half way through the story you hardly notice it.

The story is imaginative, taking us along on an adventure through the Arctic Ocean and into the Ural Mountains of Siberia as we follow Alfonso Perplexon, a 12 year old from Worlds End, Minnesota with an unusual gift of "active sleeping." Things that Alfonso can't do in his waking life, he accomplishes with ease while sleep walking. 

From the back cover: "No one can explain why Alfonso can accomplish such feats in his sleep, until one night a man shows up claiming to be Alfonso's long-lost uncle Hill. He tells Alfonso about Dormia, a land hidden deep in the Ural Mountains, where a very special tree brings life to the frozen ground. And he tells Alfonso of the 'wakeful sleeping,' or hypnogogia. He also explains to Alfonso that it's his destiny to save Dormia from complete destruction. But first, Alfonso must learn to harness the power of his sleep."

And while Booklist suggests that "this is a strong choice for readers mourning the end of the Harry Potter books," I have to say that this is nothing like Harry Potter - and such a comparison is, in fact, unfair (& rather overused these days). 

What this is, is a very enjoyable story, in which good must triumph over evil. Our hero is learning to assert his independence from his parents and must learn to trust his own instincts in order to figure out who else he can trust, while attempting to discover his own powers. A perfect book for parents to read to their 9-12 year olds who may be struggling with similar issues.

There are plenty of interesting characters to enhance the story, and the action scenes act to  propel the plot, rather than disguise it.  All in all, this is one that the younger 9-12 year olds will thoroughly enjoy (especially if it is read to them).

Dormia is the first book in the series, followed by World's End (released Nov 15, 2010). The third book, The Shadow Tree does not yet have a release date. For more information, visit the World of Dormia Web site.

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