Age Range - 12 and up
Genre - Fantasy
Gwendolyn Gray lives in a restricted world of drab sameness. The City, in which she lives, is deprived of color, stories, imagination, and free will. Everything runs on a restricted schedule, and learning is done by children looking into globes called Lambents which zombify them more than a binge session of YouTube videos.
In The City, Gwendolyn is an outsider. She has an imagination that makes unpredictable things happen. She and her mother walk to school, and she finds herself in a lush green forest. She imagines her teacher and classmates as animals, and suddenly one of the students grows rabbit ears. She is followed by two mysterious, sinister men in bowler hats and wants to escape, so she finds an adventure book to escape into. Her imagination causes her to be ostracized by the other students and her parents, who find her weird and frightening.
Gwendolyn then encounters two explorers, Sparrow and Starling, who lead her to a new world where her imagination proves to be an asset in their adventures.
The Marvelous Adventures of Gwendolyn Gray by B.A. Williamson is an imaginative fantasy that has the makings of a future classic like the Phantom Tollbooth, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Wrinkle in Time, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Harry Potter series.
The Marvelous Adventures of Gwendolyn Gray is a brilliant book with many clever touches. Nowhere is this more evident than the contrast between the world Gwendolyn is from and the world that she enters. She learns that her world is made drab because of a dark being called the Collector, which spreads gray dullness called the Abscess and hypnotizes the residents into dull complacency by use of the Lambents.
The world she visits is bright and colorful with vibrant characters, including pirates, inventors, and her explorer friends. The chapters in this new world are some of the highlights, such as when Gwendolyn, Sparrow, and Starling attend a show where an entertainer literally transports his audience to the setting of his performance. Another great moment is when the trio stow away on a pirate ship and encounters the charismatic and slightly arrogant Kolonious Thrash, the star of an adventure novel that Gwendolyn read in the City.
There is some winning characterization between Gwendolyn and her new friends. Sparrow and Starling have a typical brother-sister relationship with the more impulsive Sparrow fighting with his more intellectual sister, but they are clearly protective toward each other and Gwendolyn. Some cute, flirtatious moments occur between Gwendolyn and Sparrow then Starling and Kolonious but aren't overdone so that adventure isn't lost to teen romance.
Above all, The Marvelous Adventures of Gwendolyn Gray is a wonderful allegory about using creativity and imagination to fight against conformity. Gwendolyn's imagination allows her to create possibilities such as new worlds and characters and also solve problems to get out of difficult situations. She has the chance to save her friends and herself and maybe change things in The City with the power of her thoughts.
Like many of the best YA fantasy adventures, this book tells a memorable, unique story with strong meaning and purpose.