The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein Book Review

The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 24, 2015

Billy is not happy about spending the summer with his mom in a lakeside cabin. Partly because his dad won't be there since his parents don't seem to be getting along. But also because there is nothing to do. No television, no Internet, a broken phone, and bullies next door, Billy is sure that this summer will be terrible. Little does he know that the owner of the cabin, Dr. Libris, is performing an experiment and he is the test subject. Following clues left behind my Dr. Libris, Billy finds a key to the private bookcase in the library. These books are not ordinary books though, because as soon as Billy opens one and begins to read, the characters spring to life on the island in the center of the lake. Robin Hood, Hercules, Tom Sawyer, Pollyanna, Jack. The question is, what is Billy going to do about this newfound magic and can it help save his parent's marriage?

Like Grabenstein's first book Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, this is a book for book lovers. Literary characters that come to life is a fantastic conceit, although not executed nearly as well as I would have liked. The fictional characters are as flat as the pages from which they were read. Billy himself is supposed to be clever, but they "mysteries" he solves are barely mysteries and his answers to them are barely answers. Billy's mother is so engrossed in her dissertation, that it is completely negligent of her to bring Billy along with her to this cabin. He is left to wander by himself, through places that could be dangerous, and rarely takes the time to find out what is going on with him, meet the neighbors, visit the island, row a boat, or anything else. As someone who spent many hours on a Master's thesis, I can tell you it is hard work, but if you don't take a break occasionally, you will go mad.

Billy's scheme to get his parents back together is complete and utter trash. Not only do I think it wouldn't work, but there is no explanation whatsoever as to why his parents are having trouble to begin with. I understand that divorce is a heavy topic for this age group, but the fairy tale ending seems to make light of the reasons behind a divorce. In other words, this book is full of divorce, but never really grapples with it. Wouldn't it be more interesting to have all these fictional characters, but realize that as awesome as books and this science experiment are, it is fantasy and fun. Those things can't fix the issues that lead to divorce.

The ending felt terribly rushed. The titular character is some kind of mad scientist who we see for a few moments in the end, where he offers the reader a hair-brained explanation for everything before leaving in a helicopter.

All in all, a bit disappointing. I look forward to Grabenstein's next book (hopefully with a literary twist), but with a bit more logic and some real world pathos.