Raahi did not like it when his classmates called him a bookworm. Bookworms ate books–they didn’t read them.
Where do I begin with Silent Lee and the Adventure of the Side Door Key by Alex Hiam? The truth is, I’m feeling very middle of the road about this book, despite having fallen completely in love with that title. A part of me is certain that there are quite a number of children who will very much enjoy the tale of a young girl called Silent who alternates her life between the world of the Side Door in which magic flourishes and what basically equates to the real world outside of her Aunt Generous’ front door and the ensuing adventure when her Aunt suddenly dies and her mother has generated a plot to get into the magical realm beyond the side door. However, I also have the wherewithal to acknowledge that this book was somewhat poorly written. And that, in and of itself, leaves me feeling rather conflicted as I write this review because I actually did deeply enjoy the overall plot of the novel. And I do find myself wondering if I were to go back and read books from my childhood that I consider similar to this one, would I find the same problems?
Let’s begin with my biggest issue with this novel; a rather large number of the events within it are deeply unrealistic and almost always present themselves as a way to further the plot or wrap up particular plot points. This is not a sign that you’re reading a good novel, but rather that the author couldn’t think of any realistic or believable reason to get her characters from point A to point B. Take the brief moment, for example, of Raahi attempting to find Silent after having briefly met her on the street. Instead of looking for her at school, instead of following her, and instead of returning to the street where he met her Raahi goes to the administrative offices at his school and asks the secretary for her contact information (e.g. address). Not only is this ridiculous because no school administrator int heir right mind would offer up sensitive information like that to a student just wanting to know, but it’s incredibly unprofessional and unsafe. I’m sure anyone who reads this book and then goes to try something like that would be laughed out of the office.
The end of the novel follows this rather unprofessional and unrealistic plot device and though I will keep my discussion of it to a minimum to avoid spoilers, what I can say is that it resulted in the resolution feeling extremely contrived. Of course, it would take no effort whatsoever and everything would be wrapped up perfectly in a pretty bow in order for the main issue of the entire novel to be resolved in the time it takes to snap your fingers. Of course, there would be no struggle to right the wrongs. The antagonist would be snuffed out and punished accordingly. Everything was simply far too easy to fix. I’m sorry, but young readers deserve better.
My other complaints are minimal in comparison, varying from the fact that the main character, Silent, was somewhat difficult to like as she was quite rude–though I suppose some of it can be excused considering her situation–to poorly written dialogue in various places. Fortunately, I can get past most of that and see merit in a novel, especially when the target audience is younger children around 7-12 years old. And while I did deeply love the idea behind the story and the Side Door world, we spent exactly less than ten minutes and a paltry number of pages in that Side Door world to the point that it almost felt meaningless.
I did, for the most part, enjoy reading this book. It’s one that, were it to go through a bit more editing and some rewrites, I could see myself having loved when I was younger and one that I would feel thrilled to recommend to others. I am also over the moon thrilled that the book wasn’t entirely whitewashed and we have an Indian main character whose culture is actually mentioned. This isn’t something I’ve seen often in many books and I’m always happy when I do come across such representation. In general, the novel had a lot of promise and does appear to be setting up for it to become a series. I’m not sure if I would continue reading the series, though I would like to see the author’s writing improve and do see an opportunity for that to be the case.
So, do I regret reading this book? Not particularly. Would I buy it? Nah. Would I read a sequel? Maybe. I haven’t quite made up my mind just yet. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.