Leven Thumps has some major problems. Its main character, Leven, is too shallowly drawn and far too passive throughout the novel — more acted upon than acting. The book is overlong by about 50-70 pages with some repetitive parts. Its villain isn’t sharply drawn enough and not quite villainous enough. There seems to be a disappointing pattern of equating moderate mundane villainy with being overweight or homely. And far too often Skye tells the reader what is happening rather than showing it.
Despite those many flaws, however, some of them substantial, Gateway remains a highly enjoyable read due to the author’s wonderful sense of originality and whimsy. Foo is literally a sort of dreamland peopled by various creatures such as nits (humans who’ve wandered in accidentally and who each have a singular gift of power), rants (a creature whose body is half human and whose other half is in continuous flux depending on what someone in the real world is dreaming at the time) and Lithens (creatures who travel exclusively by fate). Rare is the teen fantasy (or adult for that matter) that doesn’t round up the usual suspects — elves, dwarves, dragons, horseclans, etc — and Skye should be commended just for stepping out of the mold, though even more for the creative joy he shows.
Foo is threatened internally by Sabine, creator of shadows, who wishes to merge reality and Foo by finding the single regular gateway between the two (the “normal” method of entering Foo is too fun to ruin by telling here). Leven, your typical teen-who-has-a-quest-sprung-on-him character, is joined by Winter (a young girl his age of the same character mold), Clover (a small cat-like creature from Foo attached to Leven since birth), and Geth (whose various incarnations include, yes, a talking toothpick).
Not enough is done with Foo itself, though clearly it will be more fully explored in the second book, so that isn’t much of a complaint. The plot has it fits and starts and can get repetitive, but Skye often saves it with more startlingly original ideas and humorous lines/dialogue. Geth the talking toothpick, for example, is perhaps the most original character I’ve seen and it’s near impossible to read his sections without a constant chuckle. There are other examples, but why ruin them for you?
Winter is a pretty strongly drawn character, as is Geth, and even to some extent Clover, though less so. Unfortunately, Leven himself is not as strong and since Sabine is also a relatively weakly drawn character, their conflict at the center of the book pales quite a bit.
As mentioned, despite the many flaws, Gateway to Foo is highly enjoyable, certainly one of the most original books in this genre I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot) if not one of the best written. But given the choice of another adequately or slightly above average cookie-cutter fantasy for teens and one not as well written but populated by fresh ideas, I’ll take the latter. One also assumes, or at least hopes, that the author will improve on the flaws in book two, while keeping the originality and humor. Strongly recommended despite its problems.
Leven Thumps — (2005-2009) Ages 9-12. Publisher: WELCOME TO FOO. Fourteen-year-old Leven Thumps (a.k.a. “Lev”) lives a wretched life in Burnt Culvert, Oklahoma. But his life is about to change and his destiny be fulfilled as he learns about a secret gateway that bridges two worlds — the real world and Foo, a place created at the at the beginning of time in the folds of the mind that makes it possible for mankind to dream and hope, aspire and imagine. But Foo is in chaos, and three transplants from that dreamworld have been sent to retrieve Lev, who alone has the power to save Foo. Enter Clover, a wisecracking, foot-high sidekick; Winter, a girl with a special power of her own; and Geth, the rightful heir to Foo. Their mission: to convince Lev that he has the power to save Foo. Can this unique band of travelers help Lev overcome his doubt? Will Lev find the gateway in time? Or will Sabine and his dark shadows find the gateway first and destroy mankind?
Beyond Foo — (2011-2012) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Geth has existed for hundreds of years. In Foo, the realm that allows us to hope, imagine, and dream, Geth is one of the strongest and most respected beings, a powerful and wise lithen. At the conclusion of the Leven Thumps series, the realm of Foo has once again found balance dreams can thrive and grow. With things in order, Geth and Clover set off to find a new adventure that leads beyond the guarded border of Foo and into an unknown land where dreams have been trapped and freedom has been crushed. Geth, always a defender of fate and truth, takes readers on a page-turning quest with many life lessons to be learned. What we want is often buried in what we fear. Geth I d like to imagine a world where there is nothing but happiness and purring, but I m not sure there d be much to cheer about if every day was nothing but sunshine and success. I suppose you can never know the good if you’ve never been visited by the bad.