Review of The Divide
Reviewed by: Marianne Dyson, June 27, 2003
This science fiction book's main character is a boy named Felix who suffers from a terminal heart problem. His parents take him on a sort of last wish trip to the continental divide in Costa Rica. While standing on the divide, he faints, and wakes up in a world populated with mythological creatures such as griffins, elves, brownies, pixies and unicorns. The boy learns that they all have different names in this world. For example, a griffin is a brazzle, and a pixie is a japegrin. It is never explained why humans are called humans in both worlds. Felix befriends an elf girl named Betony who is excited to meet a human - to her, a mythological creature who is chharacterized by their use of science. Felix's science consists of a flashlight, a compass, and a printed book. The two of them meet up with some unicorns/brittlehorns, and go to a nearby town to look for a cure for Felix's heart. At the same time, Betony's older sister and brother go to that town and uncover a plot by a bad-guy japegrin named Snakeweed to sell untested magical remedies. A third parallel story involves a griffin (that Felix met at the beginning) trying to solve the mathematical problem of how Felix came into their world. The three stories eventually merge, with the very predictable result of Felix being cured, the bad guy exposed, and Felix returning to "our" world with the bad guy so that there will be a second book.
The book was an easy read except for the distraction of having to flip back to the definitions page to figure out what creature was what. The dialog is believable, and there is enough action to keep the reader interested. However, I never developed an emotional attachment for the characters. This may be because the reader is shoved into the point of view of at least 9 characters, sometimes changing from paragraph to paragraph. During the story, several intelligent creatures die, and the characters act as if it is no big deal. Betony seems more interested in helping Felix because it brings her recognition than because she really cares about him or is worried about the murders of the innocent unicorns. Also, it bothered me that the bad guy is not punished for his crimes. I don't think this is a good message for kids.
As for the science content... it was pretty slim. I appreciated the sentiment that science is as powerful as magic, and can be used for good or evil purposes. The only science that Felix did, however, was to use a magnet to open a locked door and a compass to find his way. This parallel world is defined to be different by its use of magic, yet the griffin/brazzle is a full-fledged mathematician who uses the scientific method to solve the world-transfer problem. He even does an experiment - sending an evil creature across the divide. This violates what I call the consistency rule that is a parallel for factual accuracy in nonfiction. In this case, having a magical creature not only use science, but excel at it while the human, who is supposed to use science, is limited to waving a magnet around, isn't following the rules. Also, it is very unsatisfying that the adults are the ones who actually find the cure and figure out how to send Felix home.
I give Divide no point for consistency; 1 point for clear descriptions; 1 for a new look at the influence of science on culture (I liked the idea of introducing a printing press to a magical world); and 1 for readability, and 1 for plot. No points are awarded for character development. Total: 4 points. Divide is a mildly entertaining science fiction/fantasy book for children. Rating: Okay.
Title: The Divide
Author: Elizabeth Kay
Number of Pages: 320
Format: hardback (breaks down the middle in front)
Publisher: The Chicken House (Scholastic)