Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
by Karen Foxlee
Sensible, science-minded Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard surprises herself more than anyone when she decided to rescue a mysterious trapped boy in the curious museum where her father is busy curating a sword exhibition. But there is something about the boy’s matter-of-fact yet fantastic tale that inspires Ophelia to be braver—and more adventurous—than she ever imagined, even in the days before her beloved mother passed away.
Like Disney’s hit Frozen, Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy riffs on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen.” Both modern adaptations play fast and loose with their original source—which makes sense, since Andersen’s meandering story with its old-fashioned morals seems firmly attached to the past. In Foxlee’s interpretation, the Snow Queen is pleasantly backstory-less—she’s just evil because she’s evil. The book follows two parallel stories: In the Marvelous Boy’s story, he tells Ophelia how he was chosen and prepared to defeat the Snow Queen—and how the Snow Queen had him locked away to prevent him from accomplishing his task. In the frame story, Ophelia faces ghostly girls, magical snow leopards, a terrifying misery bird, and her own fears as she makes her way through the museum’s corridors to rescue the boy and defeat the evil queen. Meanwhile, the queen—posing as a museum executive, has charmed Ophelia’s older sister Alice to achieve her sinister ends.
Ophelia is a likable enough heroine—and since she herself isn’t sure why she agrees to help the Marvelous Boy, I think the fact that it’s out-of-character for her works just fine. Ophelia’s grief over the loss of her mother feels realistic and heavy. The ending is predictable—but it is based on a fairy tale, and fairy tales are the literary equivalent of Patient Zero for predictable endings. Foxlee’s writing is gorgeous. I think this book is middle grade-ish, as far as reading levels go, and it’s wonderful to see such nuanced prose in a middle reader. It also makes for a lovely readaloud.