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Publisher's Summary

National Book Award, Young People's Literature, 2012

A boy joins a theatrical troupe of goblins to find his missing brother in this “fantasy stuffed with interesting ideas” (Publishers Weekly).

In the town of Zombay, there is a witch named Graba who has clockwork chicken legs and moves her house around - much like the fairytale figure of Baba Yaga. Graba takes in stray children, and Rownie is the youngest boy in her household. Rownie’s only real relative is his older brother, Rowan, who is an actor. But acting is outlawed in Zombay, and Rowan has disappeared.

Desperate to find him, Rownie joins up with a troupe of goblins who skirt the law to put on plays. But their plays are not only for entertainment, and the masks they use are for more than make-believe. The goblins also want to find Rowan - because Rowan might be the only person who can save the town from being flooded by a mighty river.

This accessible, atmospheric fantasy takes a gentle look at love, loss, and family while delivering a fast-paced adventure that is sure to satisfy.

©2012 William Alexander (P)2013 Simon & Schuster, Inc

Critic Reviews

"Rownie’s search for his brother turns into an unlikely heroic quest.... Though highly textured, it’s tightly woven and reassuringly seamless. The result is wryly humorous and bearably yet excitingly menacing: Even while much is left unexplained, Rownie’s triumph is both gripping and tantalizing." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Alexander has an intriguing central theme, in which masks and theater create actual magic.... The result is a (sometimes gruesome) fantasy stuffed with interesting ideas." (Publishers Weekly)
"The appeal here lies in Alexander’s careful construction of a distinctive world: touches of steampunk can be found in Graba’s geared-up legs and the Mayor's automaton guards, while a more ancient, primal magic seems to guide the goblins and their powerful brand of storytelling.... The bittersweet ending remains true to the story’s overall dreamy, melancholic tone." (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 3.8 out of 5.0
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    12
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Performance

  • 4.1 out of 5.0
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    6
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    6
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    1
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    1

Story

  • 4.0 out of 5.0
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    14
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    6
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Ripping Goblin Yarn

If you could sum up Goblin Secrets in three words, what would they be?

Ripping good yarn!

Who was your favorite character and why?

Essa (spelling) is a delightful character, present, serious yet light-hearted.

Have you listened to any of William Alexander’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Although I have not listened to him read his other stories I must say that he falls into the Neil Gaiman category as a rare novelist who not only writes well but also reads, and acts, well.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Like the Harry Potter books, Goblin Secrets is great storytelling for grown-ups even if it is listed as "youth."

Any additional comments?

In addition to filling his story with great characters and settings, William Alexander also offers up splendid turns of phrase, bringing to "youth" fiction a height of art and depth of wisdom. In Goblin Secrets he explores the power of acting, words, storytelling and thought to literally change the world....a great magic in his fictional city as well as in the book itself. It is also a ripping good yarn.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Sue
  • TOPANGA, US, Canada
  • 03-07-17

A Three Act Delight

Middle school readers and their parents will enjoy this story of an orphan boy who finds his way to a theater troupe of goblins in the fantastical city of Zimbabwe. A fun romp and great read by the author.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Slow. Poor plot development. Boring.

What disappointed you about Goblin Secrets?

This was supposed to be an award winning book for youth (National Book Award). My kids were bored and refused to finish it.

What was most disappointing about William Alexander’s story?

No engagement with the characters. Unclear direction of the story.