This series starter is intriguing but frustrating. It opens with the main character, Iggie, riding in a car with his aunt, who raised him from birth. He’s now being returned to “Aunt Jill,” his birth mom, who lives in Peculiar Woods. There are curious hints of an agreement and stories of the old flooded village; Iggie sees some odd things, including a brown-skinned girl with pinkish-white hair wearing scuba gear and watching them as they pass. He’s excited about being reunited with Jill, but that night he has a strange and frightening adventure where he discovers he can talk to objects, including his furniture, blanket, an old refrigerator, and a rock in the woods.
At school the next day, he encounters the strange girl again as well as a pair of chess figures who demand he help them return home since he interrupted their own attempts to escape. After an encounter with bullies and a misunderstanding with the girl, Iggie eventually makes the decision to go on a quest to help the chess pieces, accompanied by his blanket, Faye, and Boris the chair. Their quest leads them into the drowned village and a variety of strange encounters, and is ultimately successful while asking more questions than it answers and leaving readers balancing on a series of cliffhangers.
Colmenares’ art is simple and static, but oddly fitting for the quirky story. The characters look like wooden dolls, with stiff movements and fixed hairdos, which lines them up neatly with the sentient objects. Boris, the chair, demonstrates yoga moves and gallops like a horse. Faye is sometimes just a blue blanket but when in sentient mode sports two points of light as eyes within the dark “hood” of the blanket. The colors are subdued, with predominantly green and brown shades, but a few bright sparks of color in clothing. The seemingly straight-forward art makes the incursion of odd creatures and anomalies all the more eerie and there is an underlying hint of danger and menace which contrasts oddly with the doll-like protagonists and dry humor of the various characters.
The abrupt ending of the story leaves readers wondering whether all the hints at a darker plot and all the strange creatures and occurrences are going to lead to a more involved story in a sequel or peter out as they do in the first volume. It’s an odd choice of an ending for middle grade readers, who move on quickly in series. Even if a sequel is released the following year, most readers will have forgotten about this odd little book and moved on to other stories. Those with limited budgets will want to wait for a sequel to be released, review to see if there is more closure or at least more explanations included, and then purchase both at the same time to offer to readers who enjoy quirky, mysterious stories.
Peculiar Woods, Vol. 1: The Ancient Underwater City
By Andrés J. Colmenares
Andrews McMeel, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 7-11 years
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)