I don’t read a ton of YA, but I’ve read enough to give me some expectations when I see the label, and it didn’t take long to see that The Six would be outside those expectations. K.B. Hoyle’s young adult portal fantasy certainly has plenty of teen angst, but she focuses on the younger end of the teen spectrum—more A Wrinkle in Time than Six of Crows. It’s a throwback that tells the classic story of a teen who doesn’t feel like she fits in being transported to a world of wonder and magic where she may be the key to defeating a great evil.
The Six focuses on Darcy Pennington, a thirteen-year-old girl from the Midwest being dragged to a summer camp in Michigan because her family couldn’t afford her favorite horse camp anymore. She’s short on friends and marketable skills and long on introversion and social anxiety. But it turns out that the camp is more than it seems—hidden on the grounds is a portal to a land of magic, a land that lies under the shadow of darkness and awaits the six prophesied heroes. Spoiler (but not really): Darcy and five other kids her age are the prophesied heroes.
While it tells a familiar story, The Six starts strong. The angsty teen is an archetype for a reason, and Hoyle really gets into Darcy’s head without making it feel like her tendencies to lash out are justified. The effortless prose makes it easy to tear through the early chapters, and the hints of magic lurking about the camp do a wonderful job of building the tension as the narrative drives toward the discovery of the portal that all genre readers (or anyone who’s read the blurb) knows is coming.
It’s after going through the portal that the story starts to falter a bit. While Hoyle wrote the unassuming Michigan summer camp in a way that made it feel magical, the actual magical world behind it lacks the same spark. Darcy’s character is handled well throughout—going through the portal doesn’t solve all her problems, and she has to fight the same destructive tendencies that she had on the mundane side of the portal—but her five friends are flat as flat can be. Furthermore, there are so many story beats borrowed from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that almost every plot point is telegraphed well in advance. Now I don’t believe that a story has to be full of shocking twists to be good, especially a story aimed on the younger side of YA. But you need something more than easy-to-read prose and a well-written main character to take a story from “decent” to “excellent,” whether it be a setting that feels magical, a plot that keeps the readers guessing while still cohering, or quality side characters. The Six has that magic early on, but once it’s lost, it doesn’t have that next piece to fall back on. It’s an easy enough read with wholesome enough themes that I’d have no problem giving it to a late elementary school reader, but despite its strengths, I probably won’t read on myself.
Recommended if you like: middle-grade/younger YA portal fantasy, angsty thirteen-year-olds
Overall rating: 12 of Tar Vol’s 20. Three stars on Goodreads.