Lori Alden Holuta serves up an extra helping of Industralia with her third novella in the series – A Life Invented. As with the previous two installments, the story is aimed at young adults – but it is something that can be enjoyed by someone of any age. The story focuses on slices in the life of Gerard Liddle, a character first introduced in the novel A Flight To Brassbright.
Enough of an introduction – what about an actual review?
As with her previous outings, Miss Holuta presents a happy little world where the conflicts are quickly resolved and – at their best – lead to learning opportunities for all involved. It’s also refreshing to see a family – and parents – working to understand a child on the child’s own terms. The glimpses that the author provides of Gerard’s life like this are sweet, refreshing, and – for the children and young adults reading them – must be affirming and hopeful.
If one might level a criticism to this type of story, though, is that it is short – and presents numerous events (in a very short space). Out of the three stories in this series so far, the first (Steamkettle Kids) seems to be the strongest.
All three stories are short (no more than 35 or so pages apiece). The Steamkettle Kids Save The Day excels compared to the other two stories because it uses this space to present the readers with a believable and small roster of characters. In the space of the story, the author then presents the reader with a concise story and a central conflict. This type of storytelling is as old as storytelling itself. It works because it invests the reader in the characters (who seem not so different from themselves). It lets the readers care – and want to know what happens next.
In comparison, both A Life Invented and The Legend of the Engineer are a little less refined – for different reasons. In The Legend of the Engineer, there is a central conflict (will there be enough coal for the Engineer?). Still, the central character in this conflict (Margaret) is presented in a very short space of the story’s short space. More could have been done to develop the conflict and the characters – and this would have helped pull readers in, keep them focused, and make them yearn for more. Still, the reader has a conflict. The reader has a character. The story has all it needs from which to grow from a good story – to a great one. The focus just needs to be there.
In A Life Invented, the reader has a central character (Gerard). There are conflicts (tons of them). Still, short spaces and a lack of focus can lead to an uneven story. A central conflict in the short space of story would help focus Gerard, help readers invest themselves in him, and help readers keep coming back for more.
There is a ton (of bricks of good – not being tossed by a trebuchet) good in A Life Invented. It’s optimistic. It’s warm. It presents a picture of parenting done right. These are things young readers need to … read. Still, focused stories help younger readers focus. Focused stories help focus characters (which help all readers care about them). And characters readers care about help readers keep coming back and wanting more.