Four stars for a fresh, sweet, uplifting children’s adventure.

“Arlo Finch thought becoming a Ranger meant learning wilderness skills, like camping and knots. But upon arriving in the tiny town of Pine Mountain, Colorado, Arlo soon learns there’s so much more. His new friends Indra and Wu teach him how to harness the wild magi seeping in from the mysterious Long Woods – a parallel realm of wonder and danger.

First he must master the basics, including snaplights, thunderclaps and identifying supernatural creatures. But Arlo Finch is no ordinary Ranger, and this is no ordinary time. A dark and ancient force is sending threats into the real world…ourworld. And whatever it is has its sights set on Arlo.

Through perilous adventures and close calls, Arlo is awakened to his unique destiny – but the obstacles he faces will test the very foundations of the Ranger’s Vow: loyalty, bravery, kindness and truth.”

(publisher synopsis via Goodreads)

From the title and cover, I was expecting a pretty traditional portal fantasty. While Arlo does do a little hopping between realms in the final chapters, most of the story is set in the real world.

…sort of. August has created a far-flung little town where magical things can happen. The fact that this town obstentiably exists in our world, unbeknownst to the rest of us, makes the story all the more delicious.

The sequel (2/3) is already out. Gorgeous cover! (10 bucks the last one is green.)

The fantasy elements are sewn seamlessly into the town character and Ranger culture. I completely believe the existence of Arlo’s scrappy little patrol of outdoor scout underdogs. Once August has painted a picture of the beautiful landscape and the “murder house,” those little bits of magic seem to fit right in.

To my [23-year-old and bitter] ears, the Ranger group’s little schtick (especially the rhyming vow) sound awfully cheesy, but there’s something wonderful in the earnestness. Arlo and his sister are hilariously cynical about a lot of their world, but all the Ranger characters fully buy into the Boy Scout-esque (but notably secular) values. It was lovely to see these kids, tetering on the edge of teenagerdom, so unironically dedicated.

I did sigh a little bit when it was revealed that our [mediocre white boy] hero was secretly and inexplicibly Special. It seemed to cheapen the themes of discovery and teamwork that Arlo was elevated above the rest of the characters in such a tired way. I’m sure this will be more important in the sequels, but in this story, it just didn’t seem necessary.

I picked this one up because I’m trying to re-familiarize myself with the major titles in Middle Grade at the moment. This is my first time reading any MG released since I was in the target age, and it was a great first stop.

2 thoughts on “MG Review: ARLO FINCH IN THE VALLEY OF FIRE by John August”

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