There are truths in Summerland—awkward ones, many of them, the kind that adults pretend don't exist and children desperately need to know. Toward the end of the book, Ethan encounters La Llorona, the Weeping Ghost, and realizes that she is in fact his dead mother:
He could feel the bones through her skin, just as he had when she lay dying in the hospital in Colorado Springs, those hollow angel bones of hers. . . . And in that moment he felt—for the first time that optimistic and cheerful boy allowed himself to feel—how badly made life was, how flawed. No matter how richly furnished you made it, with all the noise and variety of Something, Nothing always found a way in, seeped through the cracks and patches. Mr. Feld was right; life was like baseball, filled with loss and error, with bad hops and wild pitches, a game in which even champions lost almost as often as they won, and even the best hitters were put out 70 percent of the time. Coyote was right to want to wipe it out, to call the whole sad thing on account of darkness.
This, in addition to being superbly written, is drawn from that deep well of honesty that only the best writers seem to have access to, an honesty rarely seen in any book, let alone ones written for children. As Robin Goodfellow exclaimed in The Sandman, another literary work packed chock-full of eternal truths, "It never happened; yet it is still true. What magic art is this?"
It's a magic we could all use more of in our lives. Buy Summerland; give it to your children, your parents, your grandparents, your friends. Wait for them to pass it along to their children, who hopefully will be reading it long after Harry Potter has been banished to dusty secondhand shelves with little Cedric. Savor it yourself, and let it remind you of a time when those magical realms seemed just around the corner, almost close enough to touch.
SUMMERLAND BY MICHAEL CHABON; MIRAMAX BOOKS. HARDCOVER, 512 PAGES, $22.95.