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Updated: Nov 20, 2012 04:11 PM EST
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goblin secrets

Prior to releasing “Goblin Secrets,” the 36-year-old Alexander — who teaches creative writing at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design — had only published a few short stories in hard-to-find literary journals.

(Photo : Good Reads)

In a genre dominated by franchises like "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games," author William Alexander may be a relative unknown, but to the National Book Awards he's already an established talent. Alexander won the 2012 National Book Award for Young People's Literature for his debut novel, "Goblin Secrets."

The secret? Alexander says all he had to do was tap into the fiery passion he had for books he had as an 11-year-old.

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"Of course I still love books, I adore books. But not with the same intensity, the same need," Alexander said in a recent interview with The Washington Post. "To try and have that level of impact on a new batch of 11-year-olds is ridiculously arrogant. But you've got to try. You've got to aim for that."

The strategy looks to have worked. Set in the strange fantasy realm of Zombay where witches, masked actors, people with gears for body parts, and goblins make up everyday citizens, "Goblin Secrets" easily won over the five judges on the Young People's Literature panel.

"You want to find a book that people will still be reading in 50 years, that's going to be an enduring book," said Gary Schmidt, the Calvin College professor and children's author who chaired the panel. "That's the case with this one - you just keep getting blown away by what he's doing, and then you get to the end and he brings it all together in a way that's simply stunning."

Prior to releasing "Goblin Secrets," the 36-year-old Alexander - who teaches creative writing at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design - had only published a few short stories in hard-to-find literary journals.

"Goblin Secrets" tells the story of Rownie, an orphaned young boy who find his place among a group of goblin actors. With the held of his new friends, Rownie sets off an epic journey to find his long-lost biological brother.

"In a way it's very much a classic story of a child trying to find a family," said Liz Burns, a New Jersey regional librarian that reviewed the book for the School Library Journal. "But then he also pulls off this amazing feat of world-building, creating this entire mythology from scratch. It creates a unique place for a child to fall into."

According to Burns, "Goblin Secrets" snuggly fits with C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" series, and the first few "Harry Potter" books. Schmidt compared Alexander's work to Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time" and its sequels. Like those novels, Alexander hopes adults find just as much to like in his novel as its target audience, the author says.

Alexander says he'll once again return to the world of Zombay for his next book, "Ghoulish Song," which will be released in March 2013. Although, that book concerns characters that make only brief appearances in his first book.

"You don't have to read one in order to understand the other," he said to the Washington Post.

Alexander added that he hopes to return to Zombay in future books, and that the character of Rownie is at some point likely to get a proper sequel.

"Goblin Secrets" is available now.

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