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I like big books.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel - Neil Gaiman, Neil Gaiman This book was another pleasant surprise! While I love Sandman with a passion, I was not enamored of American Gods at all (I know, I know, spare me the hate mail. I'm the only one in the reading universe that thinks that novel was lame). I'm just not a fan of modern fairytales. As a rule I hate urban fantasy, but this was so different and unique. A contemporary setting with fantastical and scientific elements.

Ocean tells the story of an unnamed narrator's search for bridges between his largely unsuccessful and unhappy adult life and his happy, but fragmented memories of the past. After a funeral, he returns to his family home seeking solace and context only to find his memory violently jarred by the surrounding countryside - in particular the pond behind his childhood friend Lettie's home. When the floodgates open, we're taken on a magical journey where a lonely, book-bound boy befriends a strange girl and her family, who open up his world to new wonders and new dangers. On one such jaunt into the fantastic, Lettie and the narrator attempt to exorcise the presence of an evil spirit sowing discord among members in the community who find themselves hard-pressed for cash and unknowingly unleash the vindictive wrath of Ursula Monkton a spirit that takes on physical presence and residence in the narrator's home, turning his family against him and making his life miserable. The rest of the tale is one of personal bravery, imagination and sacrifice with a lot of endearing familial moments along the way. The language is expressive and poetic and the story is genuinely emotional. I rarely have intense feelings of dislike for a story's villains, but I'd put Ms. Monkton on par with Dolores Umbridge or the Dursleys - characters of such ill-repute that I was forced to put down the Harry Potter books several times in disgust and anger.

This is a story that would be totally awesome for kids as a great imaginative fantasy with strong characters - minus a couple of scenes that push the limit of appropriate for younger audiences. I couldn't help but think of the story as semi-episodic and almost perfect for nighttime reads between parents and kids - the type of experience that builds lifelong readers and learners who crave good storytelling and remember what makes a great one.