fantasy, humor, middle grade

Middle Grade Must-Read – This Was Our Pact

This Was Our Pact (First Second)
Written & Illustrated by Ryan Andrews

I fell in love with the Cartoon Network mini-series Over the Garden Wall from my first viewing. It’s become seasonal viewing for us as autumn rolls in. What I love most is how the world surprises you at every turn, delivering magical-realist surprises, both exciting and scary. It exists in the realm of dream logic, where the oddest things just make sense. Even as an adult, it evokes that sense of wonder we had as children reading through a masterfully written middle-grade novel. That magic is captured in the pages of This Was Our Pact, a story about two friends on a bike ride that takes them into strange & wondrous lands just around the corner from their own neighborhood.

A group of friends plan to follow the paper lanterns sent downriver every year at their community’s Autumn Equinox Festival. In years past, they always stopped at a certain point, but this time they vow to go until they reach the ocean. The farther they bike, the more some of them turn away. Nathaniel and Ben end up separated from the other boys but keep going on, eventually finding they are no longer in the world they quite know. The boys end up in the dark woods and meet a fisherbear, a bear out to catch fish. The bear has heard that the paper lanterns transform into fish before swimming off to become stars in the galaxy. He always catches one before they are all gone. That’s just the beginning of this funny, magical adventure that brings these two boys together as best friends by the end.

This Was Our Pact is an absolute treat and one of those books where I wanted to keep exploring this world. Ryan Andrews throws so many interesting ideas at his readers, and his illustrations perfectly capture the moonglow feel of this magical world. The boys’ personalities are contrasted just enough to create tension in the story but never so much that it feels like they will become enemies. Each sees the world differently, and they understand each other much better by the end. If you have young readers who want to get lost in another world or love to be surprised by a story that unfolds in a very original way, This Was Our Pact is a must-read.

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