The Spider Ring by Andrew Harwell
Published by Scholastic, January 27, 2015. Hardcover of 213 pages at $16.99. Also available as an ebook. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7.
Note: I read an advanced copy, so any aspect of the book may have changed by publication.
The cover: Against a cobalt background a gigantic spider web spells out the author’s name and below that the title. A lone spider is hanging from the G. It’s like a perverse version of Charlotte’s Web. It’s ominous and might elicit fear in some and thrills in others. This is the right cover for this book. The jacket was designed by Yaffa Jaskoll with the art being done by Peter Crowther Associates Ltd. Overall grade: A
The premise: From the inside jacket: “When Maria inherits a strange, spider-shaped ring from her grandmother, she doesn’t realize she’s also inheriting a strange power — the power to control spiders and have them do whatever she wants. This is a pretty cool thing when it comes to fetching objects from another room…or if Maria wants to use the spiders to get back at some mean kids in her class. But the power comes with a price. Maria has attracted the attention of the Black Widow — who is trying to collect all the spider magic for herself. The Black Widow is not going to let anything stand in her way — especially not Maria. The story of the ring is being woven like a web — and Maria is going to have to do everything she can to not get trapped within.” I like the idea of a magical spider ring and how it goes to a youngster who might abuse its power. I’m interested. Overall grade: B
The characters: Maria Lopez is a fun character. Harwell makes her smart and completely appropriate for her middle school age. She’s not happy being one of the poor kids in her classes, and she’s a borderline loaner. She loves her family, especially her grandmother. She’s got style, heart, and she wants to fit in. The ring is the temptation to do things she’s never done before. Readers will wonder if she’ll take things too far and change or stay the same. She’s wonderfully written. Grandma Esme is the catalyst for this story. She’s lost in the past, seemingly easily confused, but loves her granddaughter. She’s the grandma that everyone wishes they had. Derek Overton is Maria’s best friend. Everyone loves him, and he fits in with any group, but there’s something in his family that will spell trouble for Maria. Claire McCormick is Maria’s daily bane at school. The snotty rich kid who mutters things to her on a daily basis that the teacher never hears. She has a birthday party coming and the entire school is invited, except Maria. A more sinister threat is the tall man in black that appears and disappears around Maria. Is he following her, and, if so, for what purpose? He’s always just in the distance, and no one seems to see him but Maria. He was a creepy inclusion. And speaking of creepy, there are the spiders. Thousands of them. They talk to Maria once she has the ring, but not in any language she can understand. The readers don’t know what they say either, though Maria gets a general sense of what their desires are. They will excite and terrify readers. They are the best creatures to focus on for the intended audience. Overall grade: A+
The settings: Maria’s house, school, Claire’s house, and Derek’s family antique store are described well and are places that are familiar to readers. However, Grandma’s house is amazing. It is cluttered with everything one would expect from an elderly eccentric family member, but every item seems to have a spider motif. After reading Harwell’s descriptions of this location I felt I could illustrate it. It’s also filled with hidden drawers in walls and exotic items. It’s tremendous! The wonder of this location moves the grade up considerably. Overall grade: A+
The action: Once Maria has the ring and begins to notice how it can influence spiders, the tension increases. The spiders do several things for her, and not all of them are nice. Having the spiders build a web in her bedroom that grows as her influence increases made things really creepy. When she knows what her powers can do, events speed up, and her personality begins to change. The novel undergoes a twist when she confronts the tall man and then the true threat is learned. The book becomes a human versus human and spider versus spider confrontation. Excellent. Overall grade: A+
The conclusion: The final confrontation features a grotesque foe with an army of spiders that rebel. It’s written spectacularly and will be the ultimate payoff for young readers. There’s an opportunity for Harwell to write more books, but this ends solidly with no sequel needed, though I wouldn’t be adverse to one. Overall grade: A+
The final line: This will cause young readers to squirm and cheer. Perfect for the intended audience. I loved it. Overall grade: A+