The Quantum Door by Jonathan Ballagh
The Quantum Door by Jonathan Ballagh is a Middle Grade (MG) science fiction novel that follows brothers, Brady and Felix, as they discover just what is going on with the weird lights coming from the fenced off property behind their house. Ignoring the clear warning signs, Brady and Felix find themselves on an adventure beyond their wildest imagination.
While this book is labelled as being for late middle grade or early young adult readers, it seemed to me that Jonathan Ballagh often got confused by which reading audience he wanted to reach. For the purpose of this review, I am assuming that the main category is for all middle grade readers, because that is the main impression I received while reading.
The writing was definitely at what I would consider to be at a Middle Grade level. A lot of things were explained well and simply put, which is good for a science fiction novel geared towards younger kids. It read as something being written for a younger audience but not by a younger audience, which can be a big problem when adults try to write younger characters. While there were a few errors and some repetition, my biggest problem was with some of the language used. I’m not talking bad language or cursing mind you, but rather words that are unnecessarily complicated, especially with a younger age group. I am all for using better language and improving children’s vocabulary – I know I hated it at that age when I felt like the author was dumbing things down for me – but “undulated in the periphery”, “infinite permutations”, “plumb”, and “phantasmagoric” (that last one I had to look up) might be pushing that limit, especially when it was difficult to infer the meaning from the sentence itself. Like I said, I am all for introducing kids to an extended vocabulary and not dumbing things down for them, but all of these, and many more, were unnecessarily complicated and seemed put in just because they could be. They didn’t fit with the rest of the novel and the contrast was extremely jarring.
I will take a moment here to talk about both the dialogue and the characters because my problems with both stem from the same major problem; the characters did not act their age at all. I didn’t believe them and kept having to remind myself of their actual ages. When beginning this novel, I was under the impression, due to the actions and general voice of the main characters, that Felix – the younger brother – was 8, maybe 9 years old and that Brady was 10 or 11. It wasn’t until I was 15% into the novel that I discovered that Felix is in his last year of middle school (13/14) and Brady is supposedly a sophomore (15/16). I’ll be honest, I still can’t wrap my mind around that. It’s why I’ve rated the characters and dialogue so low, because their actions and dialogue just do not match up with their age. The best example I can give (I admit it’s hard to judge something taken out of context), is that after an intense and emotional situation takes place, we have this bit of dialogue:
[Brady] lashed out with the harshest words he could conjure. “I can’t believe we helped you steal! You’re a thief!”
Now… I haven’t exactly been around many teens lately, but thinking back to my high school days (which were only 5 or so years ago), I can guarantee that a 15/16 year old would have something much harsher to say then to call someone who admittedly stole something a thief.
The problems I have with these two categories could easily be fixed if Felix and Brady’s ages were changed to match their characterization, though I think it may have something to do with the fact that Ballagh needed them old enough for them to be left home alone while their mother works overnights. If that’s the case, I would still suggest changing their ages and maybe just adding a very inept sitter.
Moving on to the plot, I thought it was very appropriate for the middle grade age group. I could easily see myself reading something like this when I was that age and thoroughly enjoying it. There were some things I took issue with, little plot holes. I’m trying to find a way to be more specific here without giving anything away, but let’s just say that in one example, there’s a train station involved that, by description, is swarming with things that the character would like to avoid and yet, when making his escape, the character didn’t appear to have met a single one (even though, as mentioned, the scene made it seem like the place was covered with them). There was also the problem that it took me until about 15% through the book to realize that this book is set in the future. Maybe a not too distant future, but one where people are in self-driving cars. I think Ballagh meant to introduce this concept early on with some of the tech the boys are using, but with what we have available to us today, even something like GPS virtual reality glasses seems like it could be a thing. I feel this needs to be made clear right away as it changed my view on a lot of what had previously taken place. I will say once again though that despite these problems that I had with the plot, I feel it is perfectly suited to the age group which takes me to the next category; the science fiction.
I’m not a very technologically knowledgeable person. I know generally how to work things, just not how they work. I read science fiction and enjoy it, even if I often find myself looking things up to see if they’re a possibility or just for a simpler explanation. In that sense, because my knowledge of science is at a very basic level, I feel I can say that the science fiction aspect of this novel was done very well for its younger audience because I understood the majority of things going on. The explanations were clear and the analogies were really easy to follow. There were some moments where the science ran away with things a bit, but overall, this part of the writing was very well done.
While I can see this as being enjoyable for a middle grade audience, I probably wouldn’t suggest it for anyone older. The plot was a good one for the younger reader and the science fiction was handled really well. If it weren’t for the characters’ ages throwing me off so much, as well as the overly complicated language at times, I would have given this read a 4.5/5. As it stands, I feel I can’t give it higher than a 3.
Science Fiction: 4/5
Entertainment Value: 3/5
Average Overall Rating: 2.7/5
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