Blog Tour: The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson

by Sharon Browning

The Secrets of Solace25738896
Jaleigh Johnson
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release Date:  March 8, 2016
ISBN 978-0-385-37648-8

Jaleigh Johnson has written an absolutely delightful youth fantasy book with The Secrets of Solace.  Although it is geared for children as young as 10 years old, its themes of friendship, family, and believing in yourself will resonate with those of any age.

Young Lina Winterbok is a junior apprentice archivist in the Ortana enclave of the Archivists’ Stronghold, which sits on the Western border of both the Merrow Kingdom and the Dragonflly Territories, buffering the warring countries from the impassable Hiterian Mountains.  The Archivists’ Stronghold is the perfect place for a curious girl with a lively mind, for an archivist’s sole focus is in learning about and deciphering the mysteries of the strange objects that come to them from the meteor fields and the scrap towns of the North, after purportedly tumbling through the sky from other worlds.  And Lina is absolutely driven by her abundant curiosity – often ending up in places where she ought not to be!

Lina has a good heart, but what she’s lacking is strong supervision.  Her parents are gone, and Councilwoman Zara, her mentor and advisor, has gotten so busy with the plight of the refugees coming from the war-torn territories that Lina rarely sees her anymore, let alone having time to talk and advise.  It doesn’t help that Lina seems to be without any tangible friends.  So she explores.  She wanders into rooms rarely used, and slips through underground passages that have been partially blocked by cave-ins.  She crawls through air ducts and sneaks into restricted areas, all because she loves discovering new places and learning new things.  And she has a secret – a huge secret.

Lina has her own workshop, one that no one else knows about.  She discovered it while exploring a narrow tunnel whose only entrance was an ivy-covered hole in an abandoned storage area.  But it’s not just a perfect hideaway – it holds a treasure:  a half-buried airship, unlike anything she has ever seen or heard of before.  She knows she can’t tell the other archivists about it, or else they’d take it away from her, but she does wish that she had a trusted friend she could share her excitement with.  Then one day a strange boy shows up with a group of refugees, and he’s got secrets of his own – secrets that could change the entire world of Solace.

It’s an engaging story, made even stronger by not trying to do too much.  Lina is sharp, inquisitive and brave, but she’s not exceptional – or rather, she is exceptional, in the way that any child could be exceptional, given the chance.  She’s known loss, and it has marked her, but she does not dwell on it – at least not often.  She knows when she messes up, feels bad when she does, and works to make up for her shortcomings.  But she’s also willing to follow her heart, even when her head warns her that she might just be making a big mistake.

The lessons in the book (because there are always lessons in books for young people) are also familiar yet oh, so important:  how friendship makes us strong, how you must believe in yourself but also not be afraid to ask for help, and to think beyond yourself.  I especially appreciated the times that Lina had to deal with the fallout when her best laid plans had unintended consequences; sometimes “I’m sorry” just isn’t enough.  Author Johnson handles these lessons in a straightforward, honest manner, and in doing so, she hits just the right notes. So refreshing!

This is Jaleigh Johnson’s second book set in the land of Solace (the first being 2015’s The Mark of the Dragonfly).  If The Secrets of Solace is any indication, this is a world that we must hear from again.  Whether you are ten years old, or quite a bit past that, Solace holds stories that will capture your imagination, and your heart.

~ Sharon Browning

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