The Secret of the Portals:
The Adventures of Bruten and Tommy: A Review
As a boy, I loved adventure books. The Hardy Boys, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, White Fang, The Call of the Wild—all could keep me awake nights with a flashlight, hating to put the book down. Later I loved swashbucklers, such as Scaramouche, Captain Blood, Treasure Island, The Three Musketeers, Homer’s Odyssey. Defeating villains and monsters thrilled me. Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, if I’d had a bb gun, I’d have heroically shot my eye out.
The Secret of the Portals, by Brant Waldeck, is a kids’ adventure book in much the same vein. Bruten and Tommy are best friends, and love to take off on their own. At the urging of Tommy’s Uncle Ron, reputedly a great explorer himself, they set off into the nearby national forest. What they find there has all the right stuff to keep kids turning those pages.
How could a young reader resist secret and magic portals that open into alien worlds? A world of squirrels, of mini-people, of a world made entirely of stone—people, trees, everything. And in all these worlds, vast wealth is taken for granted. Emeralds, diamonds, gold galore—and ignored! Through one portal, diamonds are even eaten—for food!
All stories need conflict, of course, and this one is no exception. Marauding Coyote gangs, ninja chipmunks, confusing cave passages, a monster beast, huge and hostile stone warriors, a beautiful stone girl with evil intent—the right ingredients to keep a young reader’s imagination well-fed. And rising above all these, emerging as the chief villain of all, an antagonist that no one suspected—until the end.
Is this a great book? No. The writing, the plot, the characters—all need work. The writing is not horrible, but not masterful either. It carries the plot, but deserves no notice for its quality. The plot is convoluted and seems awkward. The author tries to develop the characters, but they wind up shallowly done. Readers barely even know what they look like.
However, Bruten and Tommy are eleven year olds– sixth graders, in other words. And none of the problems mentioned above would be noticed by a sixth grader who needs to read, read, read. In its own clumsy way, this book holds together well enough to keep a sixth grader turning pages. And since I—an aging reviewer—am not the target audience here, and sixth grade kids are, no teacher should have any qualms about including it in the classroom library. For the right audience, it is well-done.
Bruce Roberts, who may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, is an accomplished sculptor and schoolteacher from Hayward, California.