In many ways, Dodger is a typical teenager. He suffers from bullying at school, struggles to fit in, and tries to act like he doesn’t care about trouble at home. But Dodger is slowly drowning under the stress. What’s worse, he knows he could make things better if he would only stand up for himself, but Dodger cannot summon the courage to face his fears…until he stumbles upon a magical portal to the alternate realm of Storyworld, that is.
Dodger is pushed into the unsettling role of hero in a world of magic and mayhem where fairy tales have come to life. Together with Sir Humpty Dumpty, Rumpelstiltskin, and the rest of his new friends, he embarks on a quest to save the kingdom of Neverland. Perhaps he will discover if he truly is a hero in the process, but if Dodger cannot conquer his fears quickly, he might not long survive.
Dodger’s Doorway is a whimsical, yet strangely mature story of fairy tales, fables, and nursery rhymes. Many of the characters and settings fit perfectly into a children’s story, and the tendency of the narrative is to follow the same bent. But the content occasionally becomes something different, containing violence and plot details that clash bizarrely with the overall youthful tone. Frankly, from the first page to the very last I found myself trying to decide the target audience. I never came to a conclusive answer. In a nutshell, it’s a children’s story containing young adult content and themes.
The shining feature of this novel is the basic concept behind it. While not exactly original, Reale’s idea is intriguing. The appearance of familiar fairy tale personalities as the characters that populate Storyworld is a charming notion, and half the fun of reading the novel is eagerly guessing which fable will crop up next. The narrative is largely fast-paced, and the discovery of the next familiar folktale or harrowing adventure is never far away.
However, some of the pent-up anticipation created by the concept goes unfulfilled. Despite a rich background of tales from which to draw, Reale’s fantasy world is somewhat shallow. Stories based in fantasy worlds must pay extra attention to little details in order to fill in the blank canvas surrounding the central plot. The narrative doesn’t flow so much as leap in abrupt spurts as if Reale did not have the time to develop the world, settings, or characters in a more intricate manner. Although Dodger is at times a sympathetic character, he vacillates oddly between whiny cowardice and selfless bravery in a way that is difficult to follow and does not make narrative sense. Clearly, Reale was attempting to show Dodger’s character arc from a scared boy to a courageous man, but, in part because of the rushed nature of the plot, Dodger’s development feels unrealistic and self-contradictory.
Despite these setbacks, Dodger’s Doorway is a fun read. It has the potential to be enthralling if it can be tailored to appeal to a particular audience. In the tradition of Inkheart, Dodger’s Doorway puts an adventurous spin on the whimsical memories of childhood fairy tales.