I have been listening to audio books lately simply to get through my housework. It’s helped a great deal. Some books are better as plain old books. (For example, books that are hard to follow or ones that insist on having different actors– I prefer a voice actor that can change their voice JUST enough. Continuity, I guess.) This is an audio book I got from the library website. This won’t be as detailed as a synopsis– it’ll prevent most spoilers 🙂 but we’ll see what I can remember.
Synopsis: Alcatraz Smedry finds a suspicious-looking package on his thirteenth birthday from his parents: a bag of sand. Ok. Al goes to his foster mom’s kitchen and catches it on fire. He destroys–or breaks, he corrects– everything he touches. He’s even broken a live chicken. When his foster parents get home, they discuss sending him off. His case worker Ms. Fletcher, a strict-looking woman with her hair in a tight bun and horn-rimmed glasses, shows up and puts him down. We learn this is his 26th foster home, and he’s about to get his 27th.
The next morning, Al is expecting to open the door to one of the case worker’s minions. Instead, he’s greeted by a spry older gentleman who wishes Al a happy birthday. He claims that he is Alcatraz’s grandfather, and asks about the package from his parents. They soon discover that the bag of sand is missing: Ms. Fletcher was in Al’s room and stole it discreetly. Grandpa Smedry insists that they leave, but Al shoves him out the door and fixes a bowl of cereal. Then he has a gun pulled on him by someone who he thinks works for Ms. Fletcher (who is a librarian–you wouldn’t have guessed with the tight bun and horn-rimmed glasses, right?). Grandpa drives his car into the kitchen and Al jumps in.
Grandpa’s pretty strange: for example, his car happens to look like a Model-T and it drives itself. He takes Al to a gas station to explain their mission: they have to get his inheritance (the sand) back from the librarians. The gas station hideout is actually similar to a medieval castle (once you go into the cooler, of course). The Smeldry family is a family of Oculators and Warriors against the librarians, who rule the “Hushlands.” They control the information, and therefore they control the world. The Freelands still exist, but their lands keep getting acquired by librarians. The sands that were given to Al are a key in the fight for the Freelands. They can be used to read a forgotten language. If the librarians make glasses out of the sands first, the knowledge will be lost. If the Smeldries get the sands away before they do, they’ll be the ones to hold and share the knowledge.
He meets his cousins Sing-Sing (Sing for short), who is an anthropologist, and Quentin, who is a teaching assistant during his grad program. Grandpa also has a 13-year old guard, Bastille. Everyone in the family has a Talent: G-pa is always late, Sing always trips, Quentin speaks gibberish, and well, Alcatraz breaks things. Only G-pa and Al are Oculators. Sing and Quentin are of the warrior class, so they always wear warrior glasses (they look like sunglasses) but Bastille is a Crystin knight, cannot wear any glasses and she resents Al for his ability. Al and Grandpa can change out glasses for different events, for example, one pair sees footprints and auras, another can shoot lasers, etc.
Past this point, I can’t remember all the details. They infiltrate the library, and Sing creates diversions by tripping and warns others that danger is ahead because he trips. Some of the enemies they run into include bad romance novels turned into little men (can’t remember their name: Emoters?), a Dark Oculator named Blackburn who catches the team and tortures them for info (but it’s ok– Quentin can’t give info because of his gibberish and G-pa arrives late to his pain), Alcatraz breaks things when necessary to get away, and they let loose a herd of dinosaurs who just wanted to start a book group. The librarians do make lenses, but during a battle between Grandpa and Blackburn Al manages to take the glasses and escape with them. He reads a note from his father on the package with the glasses, so there’s hope he’s alive.
This was a really unique book. It was 6 hours or so on audiobook and I listened to it in a day, which I normally wouldn’t do unless I’m driving somewhere. The style of the book is very conversational, Alcatraz is constantly talking to the reader, so this is a good choice for an audio book and I’d imagine just as good as a real book :-). This was a “biography”/fantasy (Bio to Freeland, Fantasy to Hushland– that would be us, my friends).
One of the biggest concepts of the book was that they were fighting for information. I loved that he rightly put that information is what’s important in the world, and who controls the information, controls the world. They included a summary of Plato’s “The Cave” … in a book geared towards fifth graders… Amazing concept.
My other favorite part is the names after prisons. Except really, the prisons are named after ancestors of Alcatraz, Sing Sing, and Bastille. Grandpa’s name is Leavenworth– he and Quentin are also named after prisons but I didn’t know this until googling.
Al is a funny, smart character. He’s also honest with the reader with his character. He constantly tells us, “I’m a bad person. ” He did burn down his foster mom’s kitchen, after all. He tells us not to make conclusions about him or the story that he doesn’t explicitly tell you to think. To go ahead and defy him and do what I do best (jump to conclusions): I think he’s a typical foster kid. He thinks he’s bad because he can’t keep a family because he breaks so much. He’s a scared kid, and he carries on a good act. He can’t help it, it’s protection. Breaking stuff is his protection– and talent, as it turns out.
Al’s also so funny about authors: he comments referring to himself, “Authors are evil, they leave you with cliff-hangers, and then they don’t satisfy you.” He also brought up that authors have a contract with caffeine companies, which explains why you’re staying up late at night to read novels. Clever stuff.
Grades: Advanced 4th-up. Brandon Sanderson on his website said that he could imagine fourth and fifth graders reading this aloud. The story would appeal to these ages, of course, but no way they would get all the references.
Grade: A. I loved Alcatraz’s voice. The narration made it for me.