"Rachael survived her adventures on The Floating Menagerie and went back to her normal life…except that her mom is still missing. Now she’s coming down with the Exotics virus herself and is changing into a half-human, half-animal Exotic, just like her friends. As a new Exotic, Rachael can’t control the change, so she travels to a safe place for Exotics in danger—Xanadu House. The house is owned by an aunt that Rachael never knew she had, and who will protect any Exotic, no matter which side they’re on. But is Xanadu House as safe as it seems?"
This is a book about what children do to other children when they sense weakness, vulnerability, and difference.
in "Xanadu House" Rachael is again forcibly removed from her home and the remnants of her family, and thrown into the world of The Exotics. This time she goes not only as their champion, but as one of them. As she begins her bizarre transformation into a gecko Rachael demonstrates that familiar knack for accepting a weird truth, and using it to her advantage. In another writer's hands this could have ended up as an angst-ridden tale about the misery of being a supernatural creature, but De Kenyon makes it a rip-roaring tale about a little girl who will always fight for what's right.
Children everywhere will be familiar with the type of school Rachael moves to. They will know bullies such as Toni and Sergie and they will have felt exasperation at teachers like Mrs Q, who never seem to see the bullies carrying out their mean tricks, but look up at exactly the right moment to see Rachael retaliate. They will also be familiar with Mickey, who knows the difference between right and wrong but is too weak to stand up to his friends. The fantastical events of the book are rooted in the very real everyday troubles and triumphs of ordinary children. Kids will empathise with Babra's attempts to escape the bullies, and absolutely love Rachael's disgusting plan to get back at them.
Rachael is as strong in Book 2 as she was in Book 1: she has firm ideas about right and wrong and never lets the fact that she is up against stronger opponents deflect her from her determination to get justice for her friends. As an adult reader I found it extremely interesting that as the book progresses Rachael ends up taking on not only the children, but also their parents. The idea that the intolerance and cruelty of Toni and Sergie are rooted in the hate-filled philosophy of their parents is a brilliant piece of social commentary, and it is very telling that the most violent acts of aggression are perpetrated by the adults.
This is an action-packed, fun book filled with the type of imaginative (and at times gross) adventures I've come to expect from De's writing. The book is never predictable or patronising and the story itself concludes by neatly setting up the next book in the series. Children's books don't get much better than this.
Reviews of "The Exotics" series
Book 1: "The Floating Menagerie"