“Keely, this truly is a miracle. It’s hard to trust that this is happening, that this is real, but it is.”
This middle-grade fantasy novel stars Keely Tucker, a ten-year-old girl with a difficult life. Keely’s father is one of the few lucky people in their rundown neighborhood with a job, but he must spend most of his time on the road. Keely’s mother drinks away the stress of having so many unpaid bills and takes out her anger on Keely. The neighborhood bully seems to lurk around every corner when Keely goes out to play. Life seems especially bleak when Keely’s beloved grandmother dies unexpectedly, but when the family attends the reading of Gramms’ will, everything starts to change for Keely. Gramms leaves Keely an old horse that the rest of the family thought had been sold away. Mariah, the horse, has been in the care of Simon, a mysterious and colorful friend of Gramms’. Keely spends all her free time caring for Mariah, even as the old mare’s health wanes. Before passing away, Mariah miraculously produces a foal. Although a veterinarian declares that the strange growth on the foal’s head is fatal, Simon and Keely know better: Mariah has given birth to a unicorn.
Caring for and learning from Crea, the young unicorn, changes Keely’s life. The “inkle sense” that Gramms told Keely passes down in their family develops into magical powers that Keely uses to communicate with animals and, eventually, to fly through skies full of stars and rainbows. The formerly scared and vulnerable Keely begins to gain confidence and bravery through her lessons with Crea. When Crea falls ill, Keely must journey to another realm to find the cure. She can’t do it alone, so she brings her trusted companions, Meowcher the cat and Growler the dog. They travel across the sky and stars and end up in a magical land fraught with peril. To save Crea, Keely and her friends must face fierce dragons, dangerous creatures, and difficult puzzles. With her newfound confidence and the tight bond that unites her with her friends, Keely persists through all the challenges that arise, saving not only Crea but also many unicorns, her parents, and even her whole neighborhood.
Similar to other youth fantasy books, like the Harry Potter series, Keely’s magical powers and adventures come to her from luck, not from her own doing. However, Keely’s kindness, persistence, and bravery are all her own. Throughout her quest, her personality helps her succeed more than her newfound powers ever could. Keely uses problem-solving skills and teamwork to help her friends, teaching readers the importance of hard work and grit. While readers of all ages can enjoy Keely’s adventures, the novel is ideal for young fantasy fans who may not yet be ready for the more challenging vocabulary of The Chronicles of Narnia or The Hobbit. When Keely or other characters use difficult words, the text explains them as Keely would understand them. The occasional illustrations in the book capture the magic of the events and resemble engravings, giving the story an epic feel.
Keely’s world is recognizably real and occasionally grim, but the fantasy realm she travels to is no utopia either. The threat of fire dragons and the sad fate of imprisoned unicorns keep the world of rainbows from seeming too saccharine and simultaneously raise the stakes for Keely’s quest. This added element of drama, reminiscent of The Last Unicorn or The Neverending Story, makes the happy resolution to the story feel harder-earned and extra rewarding for the characters and readers alike. Keely proves to herself and everyone who encounters her that it is never too late for wishes to come true with kindness, persistence, and hard work.
Reviewer: Sarah Poulette, US Review of Books