This book starts off great and I found myself reading extra chapters to my kids because I wanted to see what would happen next. Charlie is a great narrator and a very compelling kid. His mother died recently and his father has remarried to Charlotte and moved into her purple mansion. Charlie is really missing his mother and confused by his father and little brother Jack moving on and being so close to Charlotte. I really expected there to be a reveal on the names but there never was which just makes having such similar names as Charlie and Charlotte annoying when reading this book out loud. There is a lot of tension with Charlie and his family because he is still grieving and missing his mom and their old home.
As the story moves forward I felt it lost its momentum. We are introduced to Charlie’s friends and there is a lot about his school. It felt like the authors wanted to include this to appeal to kids when the story was more compelling when it was just about Charlie. I was very bothered by the constant references to Charlie’s stepmother bring “hot” or the “hot redhead.” This isn’t a book that references girls in a sexual manner at any other point. There are no crushes or interest in girls besides this so It doesn’t fit. These are young kids with fairly simple elementary school problems like tests, PE and their families. Given that it’s listed as aimed at upper elementary school kids this really is not necessary or appropriate.
Eventually we learn about Charlie’s nightmares and this becomes a physical place. There are traditional scary things like a clown but the authors also did a great job bringing in gorgons, more commonly known by the most famous of them, Medusa. Our Gorgon guide Meduso, Medusa’s son, does a great job illustrating how his powers work. There is also another scene with the Roman Coliseum that again brings ancient history to life and has the kids winning by using their minds and attention to detail and history. These were both great touches.
The story does not venture very dark and there are great messages to be found. The nightmares are really about confronting ones own fears. Charlie also learns to appreciate his family and that he should be a better brother. It was loved by my son who is now reading book 2 to himself and tells me it’s even better, because of course Zombies. I passed on reading it because it it was too simplistic. I enjoy reading aloud to my kids and even though my son is always reading to himself he still loves being read to but this book is just not as good as others that I enjoy reading to them. I recently read my son The Wizards of Once and it was riveting to the end and I will gladly read the sequel aloud. This book feels too dumbed down. I’d give it 3 stars for its unique elements, great use of history and it’s messages, despite my concern about the unnecessary sexualizing of the stepmother. My son says it’s 4.5, and he says it’s way better than the Wizards of Once which he gave a 4. It’s a book that will probably appeal to boys in an 8-10 range. There is one girl among Charlie’s friends but she doesn’t get a lot page time.