Disney Hyperion, 2010, 304 pp., $17.99
The adopted child of a couple in New York City, Rose loves her parents and her older brother, but resents the fact that they regard her as the "baby" of the family. Instead, she longs to be recognized as someone capable of affecting change. Though she has friends, she feels like an outsider, a problem that is exacerbated by a speech impediment that leads some of her classmates to ridicule her. All this changes when Louis, a diminutive ambassador from U Nork--a fantastically large city that mirrors the Big Apple, but exists in a parallel universe--visits Rose and tells her that the mayor of his city wishes to speak with her. Having crossed over to U Nork via a glass bridge that serves as a portal between the two worlds, Rose learns that the Ice Queen is bent on stealing a magnificent diamond on which U Nork rests. For a reason Rose doesn't entirely understand, the citizens of U Nork regard her as their lone hope, and assume that she knows what must be done to save their city from ruin. Of course Rose doesn't, but when she returns to New York she embarks on a quest to find the answer. Joined by a cast of eccentric characters, she discovers that a person is capable of accomplishing great things regardless of her age or stature.
The Steps Across the Water is written in the spirit of Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz. It features over-sized pigeons that serve as taxis, skyscrapers that extend thousands of stories into the sky, and a city whose architecture hearkens back to the 1920s. Yet despite its creativity, there are problems with the work. The story moves slowly for the first hundred pages or so, the result of which may dissuade younger readers--particularly those who are impatient--from staying with it. Likewise, conflicts are resolved a bit too conveniently, the result of which causes the plot to feel contrived at times. In short, while the world Gopnik creates in The Steps Across the Water is undoubtedly imaginative, the novel itself is not a particularly memorable example of fantasy literature.