The Map to Everywhere is the first collaboration between husband and wife authors Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis and utilises the increasingly popular format of alternating chapters told by a boy-girl pair of main characters. They may have missed a golden opportunity here to make their characters two girls to fill in the dearth of female-friendship adventure stories for this age group. In addition, it is the male character’s point of view that opens the book, granting him the lead by default. Other than that quibble this book is a superbly-crafted adventure story with only a very few of the annoying clichés you might anticipate –
The first being that most of the chapters in the book don’t pass the Bechdel test for the simple reason that Marrill is the only female character for large swathes of the story. Even her cat is male. However, it is a story with a small cast: Fin, Marrill, Ardent the wizard, and Coll the ship’s captain. And the book certainly passes the Mako Mori test.
The second cliché arrives in the scene where Fin and Marrill meet. Marrill has managed to get herself into a situation where Fin must act to save her life. However, since they then go on to save each other and their two crew mates several times this can be called “even” quite quickly.
The major plusses, though, include the complete lack of antagonism between Fin and Marrill who become best friends quickly and remain that way. There is none of the pseudo-conflict generated by the trope of You won’t be able to do that because you’re a girl… . Following Fin’s lead, Marrill learns to sky-sail and tray-toboggan. At the risk of repeating myself, it would have been fantastic if Fin had been female to avoid this sex-divide between the character who knows the cool, physical stuff and the one who is being taught these tricks.
There’s also no manufactured tension about the fact that Marrill is stuck on board Ardent and Coll’s ship. Despite calling her their “stowaway”, they accept her as a member of the crew. This allows the story to move on quickly and warmth to develop between these characters.
The characterisation of Fin is surprisingly poignant: nobody is able to remember him if their attention is not directly on him. This comes in handy for thieving, but leaves him immeasurably lonely. And yet he cares deeply for those who have tried to remember him or looked after him regardless. The book opens with Fin stealing from a nasty pawnbroker, and (not for the first time) returning a piece of jewellery to a woman who has pawned it to buy shoes for the orphans in her care. Marrill, from our world, seems immune to whatever magic or curse Fin is afflicted with, and becomes the first real friend he has ever had.
This book also wins on the rich and colourful world-building, enveloping us in a bizarre and wonderfully magical realm filled with strange beings and unique creatures. It reminds me of the feel of Harry Potter, though the content is very different and not nearly as scary. Ideal for reading aloud to ages 5+; reading solo: 8+
Available from Book Depository.