The first in the Secret Country trilogy, this novel tells the story of five cousins who find themselves inexplicably entering a world that until the very moment they entered it, they had always believed to be purely imaginary. Tim and Laura have spent every summer playing their Secret Game with their cousins Ruth, Patrick and Ellen – a game made up of a mishmash of myths, legends, and random bits of literature that struck the children’s fancy at any given time. But this summer, for the first time in years, the cousins are separated, and cannot play. Tim and Laura are sent to spend the summer with a different set of cousins, for all intents and purposes doomed to playing wholly uninteresting games of tag rather than building up their Secret Country. Yet soon enough they find themselves in their Secret Country for real, where they – along with their three cousins – are about to fully discover the difference between the world in their minds and the world that they are now in.
Funny enough, I’ve only lately gotten into YA fantasy, or fantasy at all, really. I have of course read the staples, the C.S. Lewis books as well as Tolkein (well, most of Tolkein), and now I suppose Harry Potter, but it has never really been my genre. That said, I really enjoyed this book. It did remind me of some of my reading as a youngster, namely the entering a fantastical world - a must in YA fantasy literature – but in a new way, for I have never seen the “children entering a world that until now they’d always thought was purely imaginary” plot done before. I love that the world of the Secret Country so closely mirrors the one in the children’s minds, with the key differences that it is real, and the changes that they make have consequences. I also like that their attempts to cause real change are thwarted by the Country, which forces them to operate within the rules that they have created. I also adore the children’s reluctance to follow that path, because it’s different when play becomes real.