Part fairy tale, part drama, Jeffrey Allen’s Goneaway into the Land tells the story of John, a boy whose father is so abusive that John calls him “The Beast.” And a beast this man is – when John’s father physically carries away John’s little sister, Marny, John is launched into a mythical investigation to find her and on a journey that will weave his path with the fate of another place – the Land.
The concept of this novel engaged me from the minute I heard about it – I love when fantasy and reality intertwine on the page, probably because I see most of life working that way. Plus, I know that most kids, myself included, often wanted to escape into another world when life got too hard while we also wanted to solve the problems around us and become heroes of great stories. Allen has pulled all these ideas into one novel, and he’s done so with some prowess. In fact, the book reminds me a little of LeGuin’s story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” one of my favorite stories of distopia.
In particular, the opening scenes with the Beast and the Beast’s family are harrowing. After I read them, I dreamed horrible dreams of abuse and assault, of the monsters that come after us partially because we have chosen them.
However, I have to admit that I did not get that far into the book before my interest started to wane and I started to grow frustrated. First, the fantastical element of the story is slow to develop; even as the Land and it’s inhabitants are introduced, it’s hard to become invested in THEIR story because so little of it is revealed. Instead, we are given lots of character development in short snatches of scene. More plot in that element of the story would have been helpful.
Secondly, and here my job as a teacher curses me again, Allen does not use commas well. His writing is full of run-on sentences or non-restrictive clauses that aren’t set off with commas. Honestly, a good editor should have caught these mistakes, but he/she didn’t, so the reader is left to deal with them. [Amendment to Original Review – Allen just contacted me to let me know – see comment below – that my version is a Galley copy – now, all is clear. Please don’t let this comment keep you from reading what is quite a delightful book and one that will, apparently, be getting a much-deserved wider release.]
Overall, Allen’s book concept is engaging, but the execution lacks luster. The novel could have used a good tightening up and editing. I applaud Allen for his success and wish him all the best – including a stronger editor – on his next book.