Summary: Living in an orphanage since she was just three years old, thirteen year-old Tayna is considered unlovable. But when a mysterious couple comes to the orphanage with the desire to adopt the girl who has been there the longest, Tayna sees her chance to get out. The nuns have other plans though, and a man named Lord Angiron is out to kill her. In her escape from the orphanage to save her own life, Tayna meets up with a watcher from another world who crosses over with her to what he claims is the place she came from. It’s suddenly possible that Tayna isn’t an orphan after all, and as she grows accustomed to her new surroundings, she makes friends and begins the search for her parents, encountering many surprises along the way.
Number of Pages: 279
Age Range: 13-15
Review: Strange Places by Jefferson Smith starts strong, detailing the lives of Tayna and Lies in an orphanage where they are considered unlovable. Having been there the longest, Tayna and Lies are used to the nuns’ evil ways, but things take a turn when the possibility of adoption comes up at the same time a man who wants to kill Tayna appears. Escape for Tayna turns out to be escape from life as she knows it as she travels to another world and learns her parents may still be alive. Tayna’s journey to find them immerses her in the new world, introducing her to peoples and customs she must learn to adapt to. Through it all, she carries with her a sharp wit.
I wanted to know more about Lies though. She’s developed so well in the beginning of the story and had lots of spunk, but then throughout the rest of the novel I only got to read about her in tiny spurts. I suppose more of her story is included in the sequel, but I already had my suspicions about her new adoptive parents and whether they were actually specifically there for Tayna. I anticipate Lies will end up in the other world with Tayna at some point.
Even after reading 279 pages, I’m still left with a whole bunch of questions. Did the nuns know Lord Angiron was from another world? Or did they just think he was a benefactor? I know they were slightly evil, but in the beginning they seemed more Miss Minchin evil than the type that would allow someone to kill one of their charges kind of evil.
Once I got to the other world in the story, my questions multiplied exponentially. There were so many characters and plot lines that I had trouble keeping track. I just wanted to know what happened to Tayna and Lies, but they seemed to get lost a bit in the shuffle of gnomes and Ajin, traditions and magic that existed in the other world.
It’s odd, but my favourite part was the story about a gnome who steals a body to sell. (The gnomes’ economy is fuelled by the sale and disposal of dead bodies.) Smith details his conflict over seeing such a beautiful body but resisting the urge to take it because he’s a bit of a religious leader in his community. The history of his church built from bones was fascinating, and when the corpse turns out to be alive it was a fantastic surprise for both me as the reader and the gnome. Unfortunately once it’s established she is actually alive, that story is dropped without further explanation. Again, I’m assuming it’s in the sequel.
At the end though, I was completely baffled. I understood Tayna’s revelation about who her betrothed was, but I couldn’t figure out why she was calling Abeni daddy. Did she actually mean it or was she just thinking about the last time she was held like Abeni held her in that moment? Very confusing with little detail to back up the leap.
It’s one of those books that leaves you hanging, but at this point I’m wondering if the sequel would answer my questions or just leave me with more.
“‘Death is different here,’ Tayna said, as soon as they were far enough from the rapids to make talking feasible. ‘Sadder.’
Zimu’s whip flicked out and coiled around a length of driftwood lying across their path, which he jerked aside with a casual motion. ‘No. Death is always the same,’ the big Djin said. ‘It is grief that changes.’
Tayna nodded thoughtfully at this, but said nothing. It was not a time for chatter.” – Conversation between Tayna and Zimu from Strange Places by Jefferson Smith, pages 168-169