Goblin Secrets

Goblin Secrets

Book - 2012
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Hoping to find his lost brother, Rownie escapes the home of the witch Graba and joins a troupe of goblins who perform in Zombay, a city where humans are forbidden to wear masks and act in plays.
Publisher: New York :, Margaret K. McElderry Books,, [2012]
Copyright Date: ©2012
ISBN: 9781442427266
Branch Call Number: J FIC ALEX
Characteristics: 223 pages ; 22 cm


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IndyPL_SteveB Feb 13, 2019

A terrific fantasy novel, inventive and odd like a novel that Hayao Miyazaki (filmmaker of *Spirited Away* and others) might write.

Rownie is a young boy living in a city by a River, in a household of abandoned children raised by a witch-like “grandmother,” Graba. The children are sent out to make deals and steal for her and Rownie is sometimes responsible for winding up her mechanical chicken legs. That’s right. She lost her legs somehow long ago and had them replaced by huge chicken legs. While Rownie is on an errand from Graba, he sees a touring acting troop of “Goblins” – formerly humans who have been changed in some way into odd green people. He joins their troop and finds that they and the masks they wear might be the key to all of the strangeness in Zombay. And he himself might be the key to saving the city from the River which is about to flood.

Relentlessly fascinating and weird, yet satisfying at the end. The masks are a big emotional key – be careful what mask you wear in life; you might become what you wear. For older children who like fairy tales and fantasy but who are ready to jump away from the well-trod paths.

JCLChrisK Apr 30, 2013

This was: good, but.

I really liked the world building and original setting with a lot of under-the-surface, unstated-but-implied history and culture and legends, but I felt like we barely scratched the surface of the potential.

I really liked the hints of atmosphere and Dickensian street urchin life, but wanted much more so that I really felt embraced by it instead of merely dipping my toes in it.

I thought the characters were interesting with decent personalities, motivations, and growth, but didn't feel like I was ever really caught up in their experiences or feeling their emotions.

I thought the story built to a decent climax, but halfway through I wouldn't have thought that was the defining conflict of the plot and the whole thing left me wanting much more.

I wanted to be delighted by all the insight provided by the theme of masks and the power each of us has to determine reality, but felt we just got a glimpse at the idea.

I felt like this was a small appetizer of a story, when what I wanted was a full meal. It left me wanting.

Nov 28, 2012

National Book Award for Young People's Literature


It’s not the first story I’ve read about a boy joining a troupe of traveling performers. And it’s not the first middle grade Steampunk adventure I’ve come across. Yet there’s something definitely one-of-a-kind going on in this book. An originality that you only find once in a pure blue moon. And that’s worth reading, you betcha.

BPLNextBestKids Aug 18, 2012

In the city of Zombay acting and masks are forbidden since no one is allowed to pretend to be someone else. Rownie lives with Graba, a witch, who takes in children who have been abandoned and she controls them. Goblins, who are not human, travel from place to place and are allowed to perform. Rownie’s older brother had studied mask making with the goblins and has disappeared. Graba, Rownie, and the goblins are all searching for him. This is a strange book where some characters have eyes and/or limbs made of gears and other artificial parts and where robots are propelled by coal made from the hearts of people and animals. Read and prepare to believe in the magic of theatre and masks. Reviewed by BPL volunteer EE.


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JCLChrisK Apr 30, 2013

He put on the mask and shifted his stance to tower above them all, even though he wasn't very tall.

"I am a giant," he said in a giant's voice, and it was true because he said that it was true.

Rownie wanted to try it. He wanted to declare himself a giant.


“Treat well your younger selves / Or they’ll rise up inside you, / And your heart will be overrun.”


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ELIZABETH RAMSEY BIRD thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 9 and 12


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Rownie’s life hasn’t been worth much since the disappearance of his older brother Rowan. Living with “grandmother”, an old witch named Graba who holds a Fagan-like power over the orphans in her sway, Rownie runs various errands until one day he finds that goblins have come to his city of Zombay. They are conducting theatrical performances, an act forbidden to humans, so it’s as much a surprise to Rownie as to anyone when he joins their little troupe. Rownie is also still determined to track Rowan down, but that may mean using extraordinary means to escape from Graba’s all-knowing, all-seeing ways.


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