The 13th Reality, the first volume of The Journey of Curious Letters by James Dashner, was a complete delight.
Tick (short for Atticus) is your ultimate unlikely hero. He has a birthmark on his neck that he hates so much that he wears a scarf year-round. The school bullies call it the “barf scarf” and when we meet him, he is in the midst of being bullied. That very day, he receives the first in a series of curious letters, each with have a clue (or two). What are they clues for? Well, if he solves the riddles in time, they will “reveal on a certain day, at a certain time, at a certain place, something extraordinary will happen.”
This novel is about a kid finding courage and learning that he is stronger than he thinks he is.
One problem that authors of children’s novels have is how to get rid of the parents. In order for a child to have dangerous adventures, the author must somehow get rid of the parent or render them impotent. So we therefore have children at boarding schools, dead parents, absent parents, incompetent parents, stupid parents, kidnapped kids, runaway kids, kids vanishing into other worlds, etc.
James Dashner hit on a solution that I loved. I don’t want to give it away, because it was a truly magical moment in the story. Tick has an excellent relationship with his excellent father, whose only fault appears to be that he is very overweight. His mother is a bit more distant in the story, but since this story is as much about a father-son relationship as it is an adventure story, I found it appropriate.
Along the way, Tick uses the Internet to find other kids who got letters as well. Unfortunately, his activities online also attracts the attention of someone who works for the enemy. The enemy’s attempt to hurt Tick ends up with Tick unexpectedly meeting one of his fellow riddle-solvers. Her name is Sofia and she’s a somewhat Hermione-like brainy girl, except that she’s Italian. Later in the story, Tick meets the wonderfully refreshing Paul who is, in his own description, “fourteen years old, six feet tall (yes, six feet), African-American, and drop-dead handsome. I love to surf, I play the piano like freaking Mozart, and I currently have three girls who call me every day, but my mom always tells them I’m in the bathroom.” I can’t imagine Paul being anyone’s sidekick.
A fourth youth turns up once the “extraordinary” thing happens, but I won’t say too much about him. The extraordinary thing involves many secrets being revealed to both the reader and to Tick, after which the four youths embark on an adventure similar to Dorothy having to steal the Wicked Witch’s broomstick.
The 13th Reality is a rousing adventure story. Once I started reading, I had a difficult time putting it down. I really enjoyed the father-son relationship and the oddball characters who assist the mysterious riddle-writer. Some of the riddles were easy to solve, but most would have involved significant brain work. Two of them would have involved me getting out a piece of paper and doing lots of math, but I wasn’t that ambitious and I just let Tick solve those riddles for me. But all were solvable by the reader.
It is a fun book and I can definitely recommend it for children of any age (including adults), but it would probably most appeal to kids between the ages of ten and fourteen.
FanLit thanks Tia Nevitt for contributing this guest review.
The Journey of Curious Letters — (2008-2012) Ages 9-12. Publisher: What if every time you made a choice that had a significant consequence, a new, alternate reality was created — the life that would’ve been had you made the other choice? What if those new realities were in danger? What if it fell to you to save all the realities? Atticus Higginbottom, a.k.a. Tick, is an average thirteen-year-old boy until the day a strange letter arrives in his mailbox. Postmarked from Alaska and cryptically signed with the initials “M.G.,” the letter informs Tick that dangerous — perhaps even deadly — events have been set in motion that could result in the destruction of reality itself. M.G. promises to send Tick twelve riddles that will reveal on a certain day, at a certain time, at a certain place, something extraordinary will happen. Will Tick have the courage to follow the twelve clues M.G. sends to him? Will he be able to solve the riddles in time? Will Tick discover the life he was meant to live? The first volume of an outstanding new children’s fantasy series, The Journal of Curious Letters is filled with adventure, humor, riddles, and, oh, yes — danger… As M.G. warns Tick, Very frightening things are coming your way. Will you join Tick and his friends on an amazing journey through the Realities? What will your choice be?