Rating: 3.5 stars.
Age Recommendation: Middle grade, maybe Lower Young Adult.
Warnings: Contains material that followers of certain religions might find offensive.
Genre: High Fantasy, Science-Fiction.
Urgent sounding chatter could be heard from outside the room. Something barely audible, about a State of the Union address. Alex held his ear near the door to listen. He heard talk of calming the citizens of the world, and readying the troops for battle.
The Secret of Christopher Topher, by Gee Williams, tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy named Alex Smiley, and how he and his friend Karen spend four years of their lives working to save the human race. The reader is taken along with them on their journey, learning about the truth of the human race’s history. As it turns out, the Roman Catholic Church is perhaps not what it seems. Equally, aliens ought to be taken very seriously if you’ve learned their true nature and history.
The story isn’t at all what I expected when I was sent a copy of the novel for review. Alex is a rather peculiar boy for being only twelve; he’s in love with his best friend, knows extinct languages, and has an impressive vocabulary. In truth, he isn’t what most people would expect when they think of a young boy. And that really is part of what makes him fit for the job of saving the world, rescuing the President and so on. When he finds a series of secret scrolls, written in a language that his father taught him how to read, he learns more about his dad than he ever imagined could be true. From there, everything is quite hectic and action-packed.
In truth, the plot of the story was well-thought out, and the twists – even early on – were surprising. I didn’t have any trouble accepting the new rules that Williams presented, given the genre in which the book was set (fantasy and science-fiction). However, I did have trouble with the writing style throughout.
Essentially, when I’m reading a novel, I like to find things out about the world, or the characters, by being shown things. For example, if a character is blonde and funny, I’d like to learn about that through circumstances rather than having the narrator or the novel simply tell me so. That’s why, when I first started and the initial paragraphs were about looks and personalities of multiple characters I had yet to meet, I was thrown off. Much of the story is presented in this way, with paragraphs of information that the main character shouldn’t have known, or information that could have been presented in a different way. Perhaps, if it had been spread out into a couple of novels, the information could have been given differently.
I do want to qualify what I’ve just said with this fact, though: My reading tastes are not necessarily the same as yours. I prefer to guess the ending of a book early on, to learn little things about characters that others may not have noticed. I think it comes from reading many series set in fantasy or dystopian worlds (such as Harry Potter or Divergent). But that does not mean that you, as a reader, won’t like this book.
It is not difficult to understand what’s going on, and is probably pretty good for young readers as far as vocabulary building goes. Some of the names of the alien species will be unpronounceable to those who have not taken a course in linguistics or phonetics, but there are several appendixes, giving extra information. It is not lost on anyone, I’m sure, that the author has done her research and is passionate about the story and the topic she has chosen.
If you’re looking for an easy read, or are hoping to find something fantastical for your kids to try out, consider giving this book a shot! It may not have been my cup of tea, per se, but it might surprise you, and might give a child the kickstart they need to grow into loving fiction.