Book review: The StrangeWorlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski

ELS librarian Samantha reviews L.D. Lapinski’s newly released middle-grade novel, The StrangeWorlds Travel Agency.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency

When 12-year-old Flick Hudson accidentally ends up in the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, she uncovers a fantastic secret: there are hundreds of other worlds just steps away from ours. All you have to do to visit them is jump into the right suitcase. Then Flick gets the invitation of a lifetime: join Strangeworlds’ magical travel society and explore other worlds.

But, unknown to Flick, the world at the very centre of it all, a city called Five Lights, is in danger. Buildings and even streets are mysteriously disappearing. Once Flick realizes what’s happening she must race against time, travelling through unchartered worlds, seeking a way to fix Five Lights before it collapses into nothingness – and takes our world with it.

Confession: I struggled to get through the first five chapters of L.D. Lapinski’s debut novel, The StrangeWorlds Travel Agency. Not because the book is bad – it is very, very good – but rather because I kept stopping to write parts of it down. I was filled with that bubbling mix of envy and delight that you only get when reading really good writing. Like this:

‘I can show you what’s inside the cases, Felicity,’ Jonathan said softly. ‘You could travel to places you could never have imagined, see worlds on the edge of the multiverse. You could watch blue suns rise over mountains of red glass, see flowers the size of houses, hear the crunch of the ground as dragons hatch from hidden caverns, and feel the heat in the emptiness of space as a ship cruises close to a dying star. You could see it all, Felicity. And more.’ (p. 62)

As an adult, these few lines thrilled me. I put my pen and notepad away. I turned off the part of my brain that was thinking about the possible library displays and creative writing tasks that could be spun from it. Imagine reading it a child. The absolute and transportive wonder of it! This is a story of magical suitcases and remarkable feats, of worlds where the ground is so bouncy that you can fly and worlds that are slowly draining away… Whatever world Flick steps into, we believe in it.

Before she is drawn into the StrangeWorlds Travel Agency and encounters Head Custodian, Jonathan Mercator (insufferable, endearing, my new favourite character), Flick has an entirely normal, working class life. Her parents are overworked, her baby brother is half drool, half crumbs, and the village her family has moved to is twee and insular, making her feel ‘like she’d turned up to a football match wearing the wrong colour shirt’ (p. 30). While Flick longs for adventure, there are times in the story where she doubts herself and feels less than the magic that swirls around her. This hesitation makes her feel more real, more twelve. The mix of real life and fantasy will be familiar to fans of Doctor Who, where all the best companions – Donna Noble, Amy Pond, Bill Potts – had to juggle the (reassuringly) boring life stuff with the world-saving escapades. Flick – the brilliant, funny, quick-thinking explorer – will still be the brilliant, funny, quick-thinking girl who forgets to take the chicken out of the freezer. And isn’t that fantastic.

I’ve read several reviews that mark The StrangeWorlds Travel Agency as a future classic. I couldn’t agree more. The plot is set up so quickly, and with such good humour, imagination and verve, that it will sweep readers away, suitcases in hand. As well as being a hugely enjoyable story for children age 9 and above, The StrangeWorlds Travel Agency, offers a multiverse worth of material to unpick, making it an ideal choice for cross-curriculum study.

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