cover image Behind the Bookcase

Behind the Bookcase

Mark Steensland, illus. by Kelly Murphy. Delacorte, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-385-74071-5

In Steensland’s lackluster debut, 11-year-old Sarah, who identifies herself as “cautious”—maybe even “a scaredy-cat,” as her annoying eight-year-old brother taunts—shows her courage when her late grandmother’s house turns out to be as haunted as it appears. Arriving from California with her family to prepare Grandma Winnie’s dilapidated house for sale, Sarah discovers an unfinished letter from her grandmother, which expresses the worry that “Strange things are happening behind the bookcase” in her bedroom. Intrigued, Sarah begins exploring, and falls into the land of Scotopia, “where shadows come from,” peopled by such creatures as a one-eyed giant hand and ruled by Balthazat, a talking cat. Adventures come fast and furious as Sarah—who instantly and inexplicably morphs into an adventurous, brave, and steadfast child—travels between reality and a trio of fantasy lands (eerily imagined by Murphy in b&w spot art), narrowly escaping dangers as she strives to secure the balance of the world. While Steensland’s story has a quick pace and occasional surprises, there’s little to distinguish it from others in the genre. Ages 8–12. Agent: Jenny Bent, the Bent Agency. (Oct.)