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A Giant Problem (Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles) by Holly Black
Review by Drew Bittner
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0689871325
Date: 16 September 2008 List Price $10.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Nick Vargas and his stepsister Laurie have a big problem. A REALLY big problem. Giants are starting to wake up around their suburban Florida home--and only they (plus an elderly giant-killer called Noseeum Jack) can see what's happening.

They're the only ones who might have a chance of stopping the giants. Unless they can figure out something fast, their whole town might be wrecked--with the whole state of Florida following soon after.

Having encountered the faerie world in The Nixie's Song, the first book of the new Spiderwick trilogy by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, Nick and Laurie know that faeries aren't all flowers and pixie dust. They've learned a lot from Laurie's copy of the Field Guide (an encyclopedic source of knowledge on the Unseen World), but not how to defeat an army of giants who are all waking up at the same time.

The elderly Noseeum Jack starts training them in the ways of killing giants, but their first field expedition ends badly; Nick and Laurie are left to their own devices. With Nick's father busy building the subdivision of Mangrove Hollow (where they all live), they can only count on Nick's older brother Jules, Jules' girlfriend Cindy and a hobgoblin named Sandspur. Between them, they have to come up with a plan to save Mangrove Hollow.

There are many complications along the way, naturally, but Nick and Laurie have a chance--if they are clever and quick enough to prevail.

Like most great fairy tales, Nick and Laurie are champions who cannot hope to win in a toe-to-toe fight against their bigger, stronger and dumber foes. In the tradition of characters like Jack (of beanstalk fame), they must rely on their wits and resourcefulness to carry the day. They are nevertheless kids, with adult burdens forced upon them, and Holly Black skillfully portrays how they cope (or don't) with that stress.

It is a staple of youth fiction that "parents don't understand"--and this is true here in spades. Not only do they not see the danger, the parenting instincts of Jack and Charlene Vargas actively obstruct the young heroes; it's a natural obstacle to throw in their way, but the way it is done elevates the trope far past being a predictable complication.

There is plenty of genuine emotion, too, as the kids grow up in a big hurry. Tony DiTerlizzi brings his formidable artistry to this new series, bringing Nick and Laurie and their faerie neighbors to life in delightful ways.

Fans of high-spirited young adult fiction will enjoy this new entry. Parents can share this book with their young children and both will find things to astound and astonish. It is not a long book, but it is lavishly illustrated, packed with great characters facing tremendous odds, and carries the message throughout of trusting in others and in oneself--which is a message kids of all ages can't hear often enough.


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