This was so good??? I have not had a middle grade suck me in this intensely since my first time reading Harry Potter—as an actual middle grade-aged reader—so I am shook.
Series potential: ★★★★★
Keeper of the Lost Cities is not your average middle grade read. This is an immersive, well-built, and well-told tale that caters to a middle grade audience mostly due to its 12-year-old protagonist, Sophie Foster. It's not overly simplified. In fact, at times it was more emotionally poignant than some YA fantasies. How has it taken me so long to read this?
Sophie Foster is a 12-year-old girl living in California. She's branded a prodigy as her photographic memory and keen intelligence keep her at the top of every testing bracket, but that's not the main reason she's special--Sophie can hear the thoughts of everyone around her.
One day during a classroom field trip, Sophie meets a boy who also can read minds. He says his name is Fitz, and he's been looking for her for a long time. Sophie is told that her feelings of separation, of "other" amidst her family aren't her fault--Sophie is an elf, and it's time to come home.
Playing on the now popular story line where a Chosen One is discovered in the wrong life and brought back to the fold--just think Harry Potter, I did--Sophie discovers that she is a rare kind of elf, and that the elven society she finds herself in does not know what to do with her. So, they send her to their magical academy to learn more about how to be an elf and how to harness her abilities.
Full disclaimer, I'm a sucker for a well-done Chosen One/magical school trope. Harry Potter reeled me in and I've never really come back. Because of this, I was primed to enjoy Keeper of the Lost Cities. What I didn't expect was to fall head over heels for it.
Things that were amazing: The nuanced discussion of foster case and found families and the issues that spring up as a result of those complex topics, Sophie's sense of fair play, Sophie's dynamics with her schoolmates (painfully real and yet readable), the unique magic system, the GOOD dialogue (middle grade tends to grate on me due to its reading level - it's occasionally dumbed-down beyond what is necessary).
Things that weren't amazing: Absolutely nothing. If I had to pick a negative, I found the beginning a bit slower than the rest as we were stuck in an introduction loop for the elf world and lifestyle. However, that's often the case with this trope so there wasn't really a way around it.
If you enjoyed Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, or any novel filled with magical academies and Chosen Ones--or, honestly, even if you're just a fan of fantasy novels--do yourself a favor and pick up Keeper of the Lost Cities. It's a hidden gem and can definitely handle an adult audience.