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“But this was the way the world was. It was deeper and stranger and scarier than she’d ever imagined, but it was real. To forget, to give up now, would just be giving in to her fear. And Alice’s father hadn’t raised her to give up.”

The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler is a good illustration of how certain plot elements are essential to a Girls Underground story – without them, it’s not just a matter of the story not “qualifying” by my standards, but it often falls flat when it has all the other ingredients but is missing something essential. This “honorable mention” is missing a strong adversary and final confrontation, and it made the ending quite disappointing for me. (Not surprisingly, I see there is a sequel which drags out the main mystery some more, and maybe will solidify an adversary… but I prefer books that can stand on their own.)

Alice, 12, spies her father talking to a fairy one night, and her entire world is turned upside-down. Not only is reality not what she supposed it to be, but the conversation spurs her father on a trip from which he never returns. Alice is sent to live with an uncle, who is not really her uncle, in a strange house with an even stranger library. She meets a talking cat, and a mysterious boy living secretly in the library, who become companions of sorts, though neither of them very helpful. After being transported into a book and having to fight her way out, Alice is informed by her “uncle” that the world has magic in it, and she has great potential to be a powerful magician.

Alice tries to find out what really happened to her father, but the issue is never resolved. There are several potential adversaries, but in the end it seems no one can be trusted, and it’s unclear who – if anyone – is her primary foe. Therefore, while the book was entertaining enough, in the end it was not particularly satisfying.

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