For most of my life, I have been an adult literature kind of person. But then I read a couple of young adult books and really began enjoying that genre. The same occurred with middle-grade when I read the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan last year. I realised that as an adult, I didn’t need to stick to a genre for my age group. I could read whatever the fuck I wanted so long as I enjoyed myself. Since Percy Jackson, I have been wanting to read more middle-grade, particularly fantasy. However, with an ominously looming TBR pile, I just haven’t gotten around to picking any more up. That is until this past August. I’m pleased to say that the result was a good one, and I’m still on the MG bandwagon of fun.
The Menagerie by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland, a pair of Venezuelan-American sister authors, is the first book in a trilogy of the same name. It revolves around a kid named Logan and a girl named Zoe Kahn. Zoe’s parents run a sanctuary for magical creatures called The Menagerie. One morning her family awakes to discover that they have some escapees from this sanctuary. Panic ensues. Meanwhile, Logan has just moved to the town of Xanadu and is trying to adjust, especially in the wake of being abandoned by his mother. With his dad working all of the time, he’s trying to do what he can to deal with all of the unfamiliarity. When he discovers a griffin cub hiding under his bed, a cub that leads him to Zoe Kahn, Logan isn’t sure how to handle the information and responsibilities that fall into his lap. But hey, at least he made a new friend.
The story for The Menagerie is very easy and fast to read, and it’s decently written. For the most part, it’s rather straightforward. There are a couple of plot elements that subtly reference deeper twists to come in the upcoming sequels, yet aside from that it didn’t deviate off track much at all. To be perfectly frank, I have been reading many books with complicated and unexpected story surprises that the rather bland and unequivocal nature of this book was a welcome change.
The kiddos have one very distinct mission that they embark on: to look for the griffin cubs and find them all before a specific time. There’s some cute originality used when creating the personas of the cubs. It made it much easier to differentiate between all of them, and it also contributed to the unique places they all found themselves in. The names that they have, however, are laughably horrible. I suspect that’s the reaction the authors’ were going for, and it’s quite fitting for a children’s book. But every time the griffin kids were called by name, I couldn’t help but shake my head at it.
Speaking of laughing, the humour is very cheesy. It’s charming, at times adorable and fun, but cheesy as fuck nonetheless. There are a lot of references to modern pop culture. I feel like older readers will recognise a lot of the books and music that’s mentioned, which brings up moments of nostalgia. There were plenty of times where I paused during my reading to reminisce about memories associated to the references made in the book. This book helped me remember what it felt like to be a kid again and that, honestly, felt wonderful.
The characters are another delightful part of The Menagerie. Logan is described as being a black boy, and some of the friends that he and Zoe share are also of diverse backgrounds. Even though they looked so different from one another, they never really allowed that to discourage them all from maintaining friendships. It was very natural and pretty much irrelevant to the way they treated one another. I loved this equal representation and positive vibes that it gave to their interactions. You see concepts of diversity within the magical creatures and unique races of beings that reside within the Menagerie as well. I’m hoping that the running theme of diversity will continue onwards in books two and three.
Amid diverse people being friendly, the bond of friendships themselves were simple but nicely portrayed. Whenever some discord did arise between the kids, they seemed to talk through their issues and find common ground and understanding. Real friendships are about being able to be open and honest, and to bring up any problems that may be harboured; a lesson that is vital when teaching kids how to make and maintain friends.
Lastly, I found the soft inclusion of dysfunctional family dynamics to be a key element in making The Menagerie more than a tale about magical creatures. You have one kid who’s dealing with abandonment issues and a single father household, another one has divorced parents, and another has some conflicts where siblings and equality are concerned. These very specific facets make the book real and relatable. Not every kid has a pair of perfect parents who shower them with love 24/7, or brothers and sisters who treat them like partners in crime. Most households have seriously fucked up family business. With Logan it plays to the plot, and I strongly believe, it will assist in his growth as a character as the series continues, which is something that I’m rather looking forward to.
All in all, The Menagerie is a great middle-grade fantasy book with all sorts of magical creatures, and an appeal to fit readers of all ages. If you’re in the market for an easy and sweet, feel-good kind of book, then definitely give this one a shot!
4.25 feathers outta 5!