I often wish I could recapture the intensity of my childhood reading, that joyful and total immersion in a fictional world. Debut novel Pages & Co by Anna James reminds me of those exhilarating days. It tells the story of bookwanderer Tilly Pages, and her magical ability to travel into her favourite books and hang out with beloved characters. Some books are safer than others however, and when Tilly sets off on a quest to find her long-lost mother, it seems that danger may literally be lurking on the very next page.
Tilly lives with her exceedingly bookish grandparents, next door to Pages & Co, the charming bookshop they own. With its five floors of books and scent of just blown-out candles and dark chocolate, it’s a book lover’s dream. Abandoned by her mother as a baby, Tilly’s life is quietly solitary, although she never feels lonely with her books ‘…stories that she read again and again until they shone far more brightly than the tests at school.’
The day that Tilly discovers Anne of Green Gables sitting on the bookshop sofa is a strange one indeed, and events become curiouser and curiouser when Alice in Wonderland pops by to invite her to tea. Tilly discovers that she is a bookwanderer and can escape into books and participate in their unfolding story. The revelation that her mother was also a bookwanderer leads Tilly to wonder whether maybe, just maybe, her mother hadn’t abandoned her, but had somehow got lost within the pages of a book.
This is such a clever and inventive novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the darker elements of the plot, the bitterness of being a character in an out-of-print book, and the dubious judgement shown in deciding to step between the menacing pages of R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
Anna James shows us the myriad ways that our childhood reading shapes who we are. A bookwanderer’s life for me please.
Pages & Co by Anna James is published by Harper Collins Children’s Books, 400 pages.