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Below the Root: Reviewed

Author:Zilpha Keatly Snyder
Illustrator:Alton Raible
Reading Level (Conceptual):Sophisticated readers
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:Dystopian/religious
Year of publication:1975

Issues sometimes arise for gifted readers who become infatuated with books written by authors who write for both adults and children and/or with books that are in series that are unevenly targeted. Below the Root, which is a book my 9 yr. old adored, is a prime example.

Because she reacts very poorly to unhappy endings, we had decided to recommend against her reading certain novels. So, for example, after significant discussion, we decided that Lois Lowry's The Giver was too intense for her, for now at least.

But she had loved Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Egypt Game, and the illustration (by Alton Raible) on the back cover of Below the Root made us yearn to read the book, even though our resident teenager warned against it.

So we decided to read Below the Root together.


Well, there are some very scary moments in this dystopian novel. In fact, towards the end of the book, we decided that we could not read it too close to bedtime because it might not end happily. But, as it turned out, in this volume of the trilogy, Snyder never manages to become as pessimistic as Lois Lowry.

Unfortunately, the story of Raamo, gifted with empathy and abilities that many others of his society don't share, doesn't exactly end in Below the Root. Or, at least, my nine year old didn't feel that it ended with the finality she would have liked. Or, maybe, she wanted the book to go on and on because the environment it describes is SO compelling.

As we've come to expect from Zilpha Keatley Snyder, in Below the Root she imagines (mostly) well-rounded, thoughtful characters who inhabit a strange but consistent and believable reality. And, as with other Snyder plots, this one is involving and (mostly) unpredictable.

Says the nine-year old, "How come they don't make great books like this into movies? A movie of this book would be so much better than Harry Potter."

So then we had to read AND ALL BETWEEN, not exactly a sequel -- it overlaps the time and takes place in a dystopia that borders that of Below the Root. And All Between is a much darker book than Below the Root in many ways. Whereas Below the Root takes place in the tree canopy, And All Between mostly takes place underground. And, And All Between expands in depth on the theme of how the corruption of the religious elite can corrupt an entire society.

But And All Between doesn't end the story either, so then we had to proceed to Until the Celebration. My child became very, very angry with the protagonist who kind of gave in to his own death. And very, very angry with the author who "let" her read so many pages to just have the protagonist "throw his life away".

Too bad -- the message in all as far as I can tell is that demonizing the Other can have bad consequences for those who do the demonizing. Sounds pretty pertinent these days, huh?

--Emily



Other reviews: Below the Root
 
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