Opal is a young girl living in Dewdrop, a bustling suburb southeast of New York. Life is a constant struggle for her, until she befriends newcomer, Hope Adaire. With the girls’ friendship slowly beginning to grow, Opal’s life begins to change in mysterious ways, as the secrets of Hope’s enigmatic life begins to unfold.
In the process of taking new paths and unveiling truths, a new world is discovered and with it, the discovery of a Gift a power that can make Opal stronger than she ever imagined. Yet with every truth, lies must be shattered. Now, when Dewdrop and the new world is threatened, this temperamental teen with too much emotional baggage, must learn how to control her Gift, and protect everyone living in her world and the new one—or face the consequences of unmasked truths.
The Path to Dawn is a coming-of-age story geared towards young adults and teens. It is a story that should make one question the power of truth and lies.
Star Rating: *** 3/5 stars
The Path to Dawn is a fun, yet also deep story about a young girl named Opal who is far from ordinary, and her struggles overcoming barriers with her family, her friends, and a great responsibility she never asked for. I would place this book as younger YA or possibly MG. Disclaimer for this review: I rarely read books intended for this young of an audience, so some issues I had with it may not be a problem for the intended reader. Overall, I enjoyed it and I’m interested to see where the series goes.
I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Opal Charm, eighth grader, has a lot on her plate. Her mother has become unpredictable in her anger, her father distant, her older sister engrossed in her secret escapades, and her school life a drag. After losing her older brother Jermaine in a freak accident years ago, it seems like her family–and her life–is swiftly falling apart. She doesn’t even have a best friend to lean on anymore. With the arrival of a new girl at school, Hope, it seems like life is about to get even stranger. Hope is an odd girl with a mysterious life, and she brings change. And it seems as though Opal is at the center of it.
One of the things I really, really liked about this book was the realistic way that relationships and conflicts were portrayed. Opal herself is not a happy-go-lucky kid–she struggles with depressive and suicidal thoughts, has difficulty making friends, and is afraid of opening up. She felt very real to me. I honestly cannot think of many books which handle child characters with difficulties like Opal in a way that feels as authentic as this book does. Her family relationships were written excellently. Though dysfunctional in many ways, Opal’s family is still there for each other when they most need it. I think it is so important for younger readers to read about characters like Opal.
Despite having little support from home and dealing with her own emotional turmoil, Opal is still very much a hero in this novel. She is called upon to protect a strange, alternate world from the ravages of a dictator and initially is very reluctant to do so. But Opal is loyal, she knows what she needs to do because it is right, even if it would end up hurting her. This is definitely a Chosen One novel but one, I would argue, that presents the trope in a unique environment. Opal’s interpersonal difficulties are equally important as the great conflict she is to resolve. Personally I had more interest in how Opal dealt with her family and friend problems than in the Chosen One storyline, which arrives rather abruptly without much context early in the book.
For the majority of this book, Opal and her friends are ordinary 8th graders. Hope has some weird characteristics but we don’t know about her great secret for a long time. The magic and the other world, as a consequence, did not feel very real to me or very grounded in the story. I also wasn’t very fond of Hope, who keeps a lot of secrets and pops in and out of Opal’s life without explanation. Aaron’s and Opal’s friendship, on the other hand, was my favorite relationship in the book. They have a rocky past, but they work through it in a very mature way despite Opal’s fears about opening up to her best friend. Even the big bully in the story, Charlotte, is far from one-dimensional.
Characters grow in this novel. I really liked the way that Opal and her friends learn to talk out their problems, something I think is incredibly important for younger readers to see. This novel shows young characters with real-life, serious problems that seem unsurmountable–a friendship broken, a family growing apart, bullies who won’t let up, authority figures who aren’t there for you–and yet, these characters DO find ways to surmount them, through friendship and loyalty and having hard, but necessary conversations and sticking up for one another.
The writing style in this novel felt stilted to me, with a lot of telling rather than showing and with occasional info-dumps and flashbacks that didn’t work for me. However, as I haven’t read young YA since I myself was probably a young teen, I also don’t know what writing styles normally look like for that genre so YMMV.
There’s great diversity in this book. Opal herself is a young black girl, her best friend Aaron is Asian (possibly Chinese? But I don’t recall the character himself identifying as a specific ethnic group), and they live in a diverse neighborhood. Loved the casual inclusion throughout the book. At one point they’re walking home and a group of hijabi girls passes them, skateboarding. Despite the environment of the strict gender separation of their Catholic school, friendships between genders are common. I liked the central role that girls of color played in this novel–from being Chosen Ones, to repairing relationships, to supporting one another, to taking care of themselves.
I think this is a great book to share with a younger teen reader just getting into fantasy. Not only does it feature a diverse cast of well-developed characters who feel real enough to walk down my street, but it also handles difficult topics in a very approachable and mature way. While the portal fantasy storyline and the writing style didn’t work for me, I would definitely encourage readers to give it a try.