What really stands out for me with this novel is the author’s developed sense of voice and character. It’s a character-driven first person narrative, although the author opens with a clever use of second person POV. (Second person is when the narrator speaks directly to the reader.) Here is the very first paragraph of the book:
OK, who are you? What are you doing here? Humans aren’t allowed to go through the portals. Never mind that. I guess I have to be polite. I hate being polite. Name is Dragon. I have dark gray fur. Well, never mind that. You will figure stuff out later. What’s your name? Never mind, we have no time for that. What’s this, you ask me? What’s going on? Well, I can tell you what’s going on. You are reading my story. There, happy? Whatever. We have no time at all.
That’s a really strong voice—and remember, this author is ten years old! Even the way she purposefully clips her sentences, like “Name is Dragon”, gives us a specific picture of this character’s personality. That voice, by the way, stays perfectly consistent throughout the novel. After the introduction it shifts into a true first person narrative except in the chapter headings, where the narrator provides some humorous text letting us know her opinion of the chapter titles.
When a writer understands voice like this, characterization seems to develop almost magically. Here’s how the narrator introduces us to her friend Leonardo (we’ve already been told that Leonardo is a flying leopard):
Suddenly another loud, angry growl came from the shadows. It was Leonardo, my other best bud. She’s the toughest animal here. Everyone fears her, except me and Ice. Instantly Coconut turned around and quickly padded away, her evil minions following her. Leonardo snorted and headed to class. “Come on, fish brains. Let’s get to class!” she grumbled and slowly walked through the long hallway, her claws clicking on the floor. I ran up to her and gave the grumpy winged leopard a nudge, telling her thank you. She just snorted and pushed through the door, slamming it on Lily. “Oh, my mistake,” she apologized and sat down on one of the long chairs.
Can’t you just see her? This character’s grumpy dialogue and action make her memorable and distinct from every other character.
Voice is supposed to be one of those hard-to-define components of writing, and hard to teach. But who needs to teach it when a writer gets it like this? She sees and hears her characters so clearly that the task of getting it on the page is playful and fun . . . and her characters come alive because of it.