by Michael Chabon
1st edition (October 1, 2002)
A fantasy novel written for children (or so it claims, although I would judge it to be more appropriate for 'young adults'). It's heavy on the Americana and nostalgia, a little darker than most children's fiction (lots of evil, suffering, and death), and it seems a bit more literary than one expects, or wants, in children's fiction. Lots of baseball, Native American lore, and tragically lost family members.
Ethan Feld and his father moved to Clam Island, Washington, after Ethan's mother died. It's a peaceful, rainy, small town sort of place. Perfect for his father's mini-dirigible workshop. Life is quiet, although there's a bit too much baseball being played for Ethan's tastes. There is one corner of the island, called Summerland, where it never rains. This is also where the baseball field is located. (Baseball plays a very big part in this story). It emerges that Summerland is a place where two worlds come together, making it easier for magical people to hop across.
Ethan starts seeing a strange little fox-like creature (who gives him an otherworldly book on catching); an old man starts giving him cryptic messages; and before long, he starts slipping into the other world himself -- and into the middle of the local creatures battles with Coyote. Shortly thereafter he and his friends go on a long quest to stop the ultimate evil.
The world tree, he learns, consists of four branches, formed by Coyote at the beginning of the world(s). One of these branches has been forever sealed off (by one of Coyote's tricks), but the other three are the Summerlands (adventure, fairies, giants, etc.), the Winterlands (cold and foreboding), and the Middling (our world). And now Coyote is trying to end the worlds... Ethan and a ragtag group of adventures set off to find the well at the base of the tree, meeting many strange creatures, and playing lots of baseball with them, along the way.
Not a bad adventure story. Nothing special, unless you're into quasi-Native American lore and baseball. It's not as silly as you might be thinking. It takes the whole baseball aspect seriously, and it works. The fairies (called ferishers) aren't fairy-taily type fairies, the giants are evil enough that you can forgive them for the ridiculousness of their existence, and even the tall tales brought to life (Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, etc.) are forgivable.
Summerland is a little slow to read -- only 500 pages, but I could have read two or three Harry Potters in the time it took to finish it. Not a bad thing.
This book reminds me of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy more than anything else. It has been a long time since I've read the HDMT, so I can't make a real comparison, but the dark mood and dire magical battles seem in the same style. I would say that Summerland is probably a little lighter in mood.