In Lizzie in the Land Beyond, Lizzie is eighteen years old, tired and stressed. With the help of some of her mother’s sleeping pills, she thinks she can finally get a good night’s rest. Lizzie sleeps, but wakes up in a strange body, in a yurt, with Yolanda, an apprentice witch. Banished from the witches’ village and guided by Yolanda, Lizzie sets out to find the Sea People, a race of aliens who may be able to help her get home.
Along the way, Lizzie meets Adelaide, a giant, and her partner Sculdar, a dwarf; Osric, a raftman, and his “pet” giant cat Mistran; Oonagh the ghost; Garth, another being from Earth; and various trolls and mermaids. She learns the secret of the mysterious red stones sought by the aliens and searches for a way to get home.
After a number of adventures, Lizzie must finally decide whether to stay in this new world or keep trying to return to her old life.
Theme of the Book
What Lizzie learns and the lesson shared by many of the characters in the story is the importance of acceptance and empathy. Each character learns to accept the others for who they are. This is a coming-of-age story in which the main character grows emotionally and brings change to everyone she touches.
What I Liked About the Story
Many writers who create alternate worlds take themselves very seriously so that their books are full of formal language of nearly Biblical proportions. This book is different. The characters speak in a very down-to-earth way combining alternate beliefs with modern slang and humor. One of the best, though minor, scenes in the book is the conversation between the ghosts on Graveyard Island. Reading that dialogue, a reader could picture it happening in any coffee shop or book club meeting. The characters sound and feel real. There is none of the “mysticism” of many fantasy worlds. Readers will encounter characters they can identify with and either like or dislike as real people.
Lizzie is a fine example of a young adult character who could easily be a real person. At the beginning of the story, she is stressed because of final exams and because, with her mother away for work, she is taking care of her two little brothers. When she is in the Land, she reacts the way a normal teenager would. Sometimes she is rebellious, sometimes afraid, sometimes confident and at other times sure that she will never succeed. But underneath Lizzie’s tough exterior, there is a tenderness and a caring that shine through in her interactions with the other characters, even with the aliens who are thought of as the enemy. Her growing closeness to Osric is very well written and Osric himself, is a wonderful character.
In Lizzie in the Land Beyond, the author has managed to create a cast of characters that stay true to themselves while growing emotionally. Lizzie is only one example; there are many others.
The Land itself, while not conforming to generally accepted laws of nature, is easily accepted by the reader. The storms of fireballs, the Switch River that changes direction at a whim, the presence of water sprites, mermaids, and trolls, all seem perfectly logical.
There is enough adventure, suspense and action to satisfy most readers but there is no graphic violence or sexual content.
What I Didn’t Like About the Story
It is actually very difficult to find negatives about Lizzie in the Land Beyond . If I were to mention one weakness, it would be the plot line concerning the aliens. It sometimes felt as if the aliens were in the story because every fantasy has to have aliens and not because they served a useful purpose. The characters of the aliens could easily have been replaced by trolls, for example, because the trolls are described rather negatively. But this is a minor point. The aliens, while seeming superfluous, are interesting to read about and perhaps are a portrait of the world Lizzie left behind.
Ms. McDonough-Wachtman has done a wonderful job in creating and peopling a fantasy world that readers will love.