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“He didn’t like lying to his mother. It was hard to keep secrets from someone who knew everything about you, right down to the size of your underwear. But there was no choice,” Van. –The Collectors
The Collectors #1
by Jacqueline West
Van notices things. He keeps his eyes open and finds all sorts of things that other people don’t notice. A marble in the grass. A tiny astronaut with one arm raised. But Van is small and most people don’t notice him.
One day, Van notices a girl and a silver squirrel stealing a coin from a fountain. But what’s even stranger is that the girl notices Van. When Van sees the silver squirrel stealing a birthday wish, Van decides to follow the squirrel and find the mysterious girl. What he finds instead is a dangerous place where wishes are real. He discovers that the Collectors steal wishes and put them away before they can come true. But soon, Van realizes that not all wishes are good, and some good wishes can have dangerous consequences.
Beautiful descriptions create an enchanting mythology around wishes. Van’s curiosity, powers of observation, and desire to do what is right lead him into a world of trouble. Van isn’t sure who to trust—Mr. Falborg who is friendly and seems kind or the Collectors who are shrouded in secrets. This conflict lasts until the end of the story and leads to an unexpected conclusion.
Van’s character is not only well developed, but he is also unique. He must use a hearing aid and often has difficulty communicating. Van struggles to understand people who don’t face him as they speak or when they speak too quickly. Throughout the story, Van has to work out what he thought someone said and translate it into what they most likely said. Having a main character with a hearing impairment allows readers to understand Van’s disability. At one point in the story, Van gets angry, asking, “Why does everybody think I want to hear the way THEY do!?” Van shows that he doesn’t need to be “fixed” and be like everyone else.
The Collectors explores the idea of power and unintended consequences. When it comes to Wish Eaters, “It’s not a matter of good or bad. It’s not about kindness or evil. It’s not even a matter of intentions. You can mean to do good and still do terrible things. . . If you give someone, anyone, too much power, enough power that they can control everyone around them—then you run a terrible risk.” The Collectors is a fantastic book that has magic, suspense, humor, and a talking squirrel that is obsessed with the smell of food.
This kid-friendly mystery is suspenseful, but not scary. At one point in the story, Van wonders if Wish Eaters are, “more dangerous than a bunch of guys who steal me out of my bed in the middle of the night and angle me over a bottomless pit?” Strong readers will want to pick up The Collectors to find out the answer.
- A boy thinks that Van’s mother and his father are “probably kissing.” When the boys go to spy on their parents, they discover that “Their hands were very close together, but their lips were several inches apart.”
- When Van discovers where the Collectors conduct their business, a man threatens him. The man says, “Do not come back here. Do not mention anything about us, or about this place, to anyone. We will be watching you. . . And if we find out that you have spoken of us, you and anyone you’ve told will have to be . . . removed.”
- Two dark-coated men kidnap Van. “Someone tugged a black cotton bag over Van’s head. Van felt the jostle of being lifted over the window. . . He tried to scream, but the bag seemed to trap the sound inside his own head. . .” Van is not injured.
- Van’s mother is hit by a car. Van sees her “leg was bent at an impossible angle.”
- Collectors try to capture a Wish Eater that “was larger than a city bus.” The monster charges at Van. “Van could hear its huffing, hungry breath. . . Cell doors rattled as it charged by.” The Collectors chase after the Wish Eater. “The beast spun. Its whipping tail knocked several people off their feet. Its teeth snapped at two others, catching and tossing them backwards.” The scene takes place over 4 pages. No one is injured.
- Someone makes a wish that puts Van in an underground train tunnel. Van was, “standing on the tracks. He was deep, deep below the earth. There was not a platform in sight . . . There was no safe space to escape to, and no time to run.” Van is uninjured.
Drugs and Alcohol
- God is used as an exclamation once.
- Someone calls Van a moron.
- Someone calls Van a “little idiot.”
- The Collectors are a group of people who “see things normal people don’t see and hear things they don’t hear. We live longer than normal people can live. We don’t get born. We’re wished.”
- The Collectors take people’s wishes and put them in bottles so that the wish can never come true. Pebble explains that people’s wishes shouldn’t come true because “Do you want to get trampled by dinosaurs? Do you want an eight-year-old boy to be king of the whole world? Do you want every food in the world to taste like chocolate ice cream?”
- A wish is an unpredictable thing because “wishes are extraordinarily hard to control. And once a wish becomes a dead wish, once no limitations remain, once that wish is nothing but magical energy—it becomes an exceedingly powerful thing. It is pure chaos.”
- Wish Eaters can be of various shapes and sizes. One Wish Eater was “a giant, roaring, rippling beast. It was shaped like a stretched-out crocodile, with a thrashing tail, a triangular head, and a long . . . long . . . impossibly long snout full of jagged, needle-sharp teeth.”
- If a Wish Eater eats a wish, the wish comes true, if it is a “variable wish. A living wish. An authentic wish. A wish with its roots in the magic of millennia.”
- When Van wishes to go somewhere unnoticed, a toy sleigh and reindeer come to life and grow. The sleigh “hung in the night air just outside his bedroom window, twinkling with a haze of pearly mist. It swelled and stretched until it was the size of an actual sleigh, and the plastic reindeer were as big as real reindeer, and the plastic Santa that turned its cheery smile towards Van was just the right size for a jolly old elf.” The sleigh takes Van to his destination.
- Someone makes a wish that makes Van let Wish Eaters out of their cage. “Panic spread through Van’s chest. What was he doing? Why was he doing it? And how was he doing it without even trying? . . . Something was controlling him. Van realized it with a dizzying jolt. Something else was moving him . . .”