The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places by Pete Begler – Review by Jennifer Curry
Every once in a while, I read a book that I immediately add to the I-cannot-wait-to-read-this-with-my-kids stack. When I read The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places by Pete Begler, I knew it was going in that stack along with the classics by Dahl, Rowling and Riordan. I am already anticipating the wide-eyed looks of excitement and fear this thrill fest will bring.
Begler’s title is not misguiding – it is about both fearless travelers and wicked places. Nell and her younger brothers must journey into the wicked places of our dreamscapes to rescue their mother. They must be courageous and fearless as they travel to worlds unknown and face unimaginable fears. Nell is a strong, smart and unusual girl with a gift for seeing what others do not. What has always made her seem strange, now becomes her greatest gift.
But, Nell does not take this journey alone. Her moody brother, George, and her sweet youngest brother, Speedy, are also on this expedition. The author could have written a story about a brave girl battling her fears alone, but Begler makes a wonderful decision to include a realistic portrayal of sibling relationships. There were several times when the annoyed comments of her brother made me chuckle as they sounded just like things my brother (or my students) say.
Furthermore, when adding in Nell’s brothers, this is no longer a story just about Nell’s gifts. As the novel progresses, the characters recognize their own unique gifts. Those character traits that may have seem hindrances in the real world become strengths in the Wicked Places.
The Wicked Places are the lands of nightmares. There are plenty of fiction books for middle grade students that would be considered scary, but Begler actually writes about the things that wake us up during the middle of the night. Evil clowns and witches chase and attack the children while they run through dark woods and get lost in mazes. Black clouds suck people into the sky. Daggers fall from the sky. It really is the stuff of nightmares.
Yet, in the midst of all this horror, readers will continuously be cheering on the siblings. When facing evil of the darkest kind, each of the children finds a way to face it bravely. Nell and her brothers learn the importance of standing up for what it right and not running from the things that scare you. They learn how much they need each other.
The chapters are fast-paced, and I had a hard time putting the book down. Why would anyone want to pause reading a book that has animals wearing clothing and gives kids the ability to soar through the sky as comets while also fighting evil clowns? Between all the beautiful descriptions of the dreamlands, the magic that exists everywhere and the true terror of the wicked places, I was enthralled.
There is something incredibly fun about reading a book that scares you and delights you at the same time. This book is a masterpiece of language and fantasy. Pete Begler does a wonderful job of crafting unique characters, an exciting plot and developing a setting that comes to life in the reader’s mind. Reading it is like slipping into your own dream world.
Jennifer Curry is a former high school English teacher and librarian who now spends her days working from home as a freelance writer while taking care of her two children. As an avid reader and a believer in the power of words, she blogs about life, what she is learning about in the books she is reading, and how she uses book to teach her kids at www.litlovingmom.com.