But after reading it, I still don't know what I think about this book.
The jist of the plot is that Matilda Pages (Tilly) lives with her grandparents in a home connected to their amazing, sprawling bookstore in North London called Pages & Co. Tilly's father died before she was born and her mother disappeared soon after her birth. Tilly is beginning a school break and is looking forward to reading a few books.
As the story progresses, Tilly realizes that she is seeing fictional characters come to life in the bookstore. Her grandmother is talking to Elizabeth Bennet. Her grandfather is talking to Sherlock Holmes. She is running into Anne Shirley and Alice (from Wonderland). It turns out that Tilly and her family are bookwanderers, which means they can quite literally go into stories.
The story really gets going as we realize that Tilly's mom (who has disappeared) was also a bookwanderer and that there is something peculiar about Tilly's bookwandering--even within the world of bookwandering.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I have some hesitations. The book began a little too "on the nose." As we are just getting to know Tilly's grandparents, they are spouting quote-worthy statements left and right. In just the first few pages of the books, her grandmother says, "Often it's the things that don't come naturally to us that are the most important." A few pages later, her grandfather says, "Sometimes a person who becomes a friend is the least likely person you'd expect. Friends should bring out the best in you, not be the same as you." Both of these are great thoughts, but they are dispensed before the characters of the grandparents are developed. It would be like Dumbledore providing all of his sage advice to Harry at the beginning of each Harry Potter book, rather than at the end. Happily, this slightly didactic tendency quickly ends and we see Tilly's grandparents as more genuine characters.
Also at the beginning of the book, a key plot point seems to be that Tilly's best friend, Grace, has left her behind for other friends. This is a great topic for a middle-grade book because so many kids this age face friends deserting them. But, other than a brief mention later in the book, Grace's abandonment of Tilly is not fully explored.
Another problem at the beginning of the book is that things happen just a little too easily. It truly strains the reader's suspension of disbelief. After a lifetime of no one talking to Tilly about her mother, suddenly (while looking for vanilla) she finds a box of her mom's books in the kitchen cupboards. Presumably, Tilly has been in those cupboards thousands of times, why does she just find the box now? Conveniently, while still looking for vanilla, Tilly runs across the street to a bakery and runs into the owner's son Oskar, who becomes her sidekick throughout the book. Additionally, Oskar's mom just happens to have a picture of Tilly's mom pregnant with Tilly ready to pull out and give to Tilly. That was one fortuitous search for vanilla.
It also strains the suspension of disbelief that Tilly so readily reveals her secrets to her new friend, Oskar. She tells him about her mother, who has seemingly deserted her. She then surprisingly tells him about seeing fictional characters. I'm pretty sure if I began seeing fictionaly characters, I would not share that with even my closest friends. Simlarly, once Tilly finds out she is a bookwanderer, her grandparents readily tell her and Oskar everything about her parents, even though they have been hiding it from Tilly for her entire life. It just doesn't ring true.
Still, I can forgive these things because the story is very enthralling. And yet, I have one lingering issue. My biggest problem with the book is the twist about Tilly's father. I can't go into detail about it without major spoilers, but it is just weird. I can't put it any other way. It's weird and it impacts a character of a major classic of children's literature. The twist does explain a lot about Tilly, but I kept imagining my 10-year-old and 9-year-old reading the twist (that concerns a book they love) and I know they would be very confused. It is a story line better suited to the Jane Austen fanfic so popular among 20-something women than for a middle-grade novel.
All of this being said, I did truly enjoy reading the book and I do think my kids would enjoy the premise of a girl falling into books. It is a book about books. What avid reader doesn't love that?! It is well-written overall and it is a fun setting. I like the grandparents. I like Oskar. I like the mysterious library located under the British Library (one of my favorite places in the world). Even the antagonist in the book has his own fascinating twists. There is a lot to love about this book.
Ugh, I just don't know how I feel about Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers. It is clearly the beginning of a series and I undoubtedly will pick up the next book to see what the author does with this unusual world she has created. By chance, I found a video with the author discussing some of her favorite children's books. Here it is for your enjoyment.