Author: Eleanor Glewwe
Rating: ★★★ 1/2
Synopsis: Marah Levi is a promising violinist who excels at school and can read more languages than most librarians. Even so, she has little hope of a bright future: she is a sparker, a member of the oppressed lower class in a society run by magicians.
Then a mysterious disease hits the city of Ashara, turning its victims’ eyes dark before ultimately killing them. As Marah watches those whom she loves most fall ill, she finds an unlikely friend in Azariah, a wealthy magician boy. Together they pursue a cure in secret, but more people are dying every day, and time is running out. Then Marah and Azariah make a shocking discovery that turns inside-out everything they thought they knew about magic and about Ashara, their home.
Set in an imaginative world rich with language, lore, and music, this gripping adventure plunges the reader into the heart of a magical government where sparks of dissent may be even more deadly than the dark eyes.
Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada/Viking Juvenile for this ARC!
I knew zero about Sparkers going into it other than it was a middle grade fantasy adventure. However, having finished it, I feel like that is only a partial description. This book is incredibly dark for a middle grade read and it takes some very unexpected turns — some that work incredibly well, and some that feel a touch awkward given the movement of the narrative.
First off, I loved that this story dealt with social justice issues and racism and made them such approachable topics for a middle grade audience. The moral choices and issues presented are very complex and rich without being overcomplicated or preachy. It helps, of course, that the novel is supported by a (mostly) excellent cast of characters.
Marah in particular, is vibrant, full of life and is someone with the desire to help others before herself. Although she’s selfless, her fatal flaw is that she’s very naive as well. She’s a heroine I think a lot of readers regardless of age will appreciate simply because of the traits she possesses and how Glewwe weaves them into the story. Furthermore, I was surprised with the amount of death that occurs in the book, something that often feels uncommon in middle grade, and the deaths that did occur were very well done.
This book did take me awhile to get into, if only because it’s a very slow burn and it needs to build its world and give just enough detail for the reader to be able to visualize it. However, sometimes I felt there was too little in terms of detail and I didn’t always feel like I could visualize the world Glewwe was painting. The book also pulled a here’s a villain in the last forty pages or so who is super evil and POOF! he’s gone, which I did not like. It felt rushed and simply anti-climatic, even though the twist surrounding said character was pretty solid. I think after the twist I was just expecting more than I got, making the ending feel a little cop outtish for me.
I think Sparkers is still a great debut middle grade novel and I think middle graders who love and dig fantasy will definitely find something to enjoy here. There’s simplicity in the writing and the story is easy to follow. I really loved the social issues in this book and I think they were the strongest aspect of the story, along with the characters, and those two reasons alone do make Sparkers a worthwhile book to check out.