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Across the Great Barrier by Patricia C. Wrede


  Across the Great Barrier
Patricia C. Wrede
Scholastic Press
Date: August 1, 2011
352 pages
ISBN-10: 0545033438
ISBN-13: 978-0545033435
Lexile : 1020L

Book Overview:

Across the Great Barrier is the story of Eff and her twin brother, Lan.  He is the seventh son of a seventh son, blessed with power and luck; she is the thirteenth child, cursed by the number of her birth and expected to bring evil, bad luck, and destruction everywhere she goes. Eff’s parents move to the western frontier to give them a new start.

Across the Great Barrier is the second book in Patricia C. Wrede’s Frontier Magic series.  It follows Thirteenth Child which chronicles Eff’s early childhood, the family’s move west, and her growing up years through her first years as a young adult.  The second book picks up where the first one ends, and we get to see Eff and her brother as they meet some major challenges in how they see themselves and their future.

Positive Content:

The books are told from Eff’s point of view, and she has a very engaging voice that pulls you along.  The world-building is first rate;  Ms. Wrede sets her story in a familiar/unfamiliar version of the Old West, in the context of a modified history of the United States of Columbia (America).  But the Frontier is inhabited by plants and animals with magical properties and powers, and the settlers must depend on the services of magicians prepared to help them survive in the dangerous new territory beyond the Great Barrier.

Across the Great Barrier is an action adventure story with a thoughtful side. 

Eff is a great role model for young women; she’s making her own way by hard work and perseverance in the face of tough odds.  Eff, who thought she was doomed because she is a thirteenth child, is learning that she is responsible for choosing what she becomes.

Content to Consider: (Spoilers)


  • Eff, Wash, and Professor Torgeson are attacked by a pride of magical big cats.  Wash shoots them with his rifle, and Eff uses her magic defensively.
  • The pride of cats kills a family of settlers.
  • A group of settlers, plus the three on the survey team which includes Eff, hunt down the pride of cats with rifles.
  • Three men are seriously injured by wild animals.
  • One man loses his leg due to the aggression of a magical animal.  This is probably the most wrenching account of violence in the book.
  • Guns are used throughout the book for hunting purposes and to fight off attacks from wild animals.
  • Magic is used in a defensive way to avoid injuries from wild animal attacks.
  • One man is killed and several students are seriously injured when a magical experiment goes wrong.
  • Eff kills a monster by shooting it with her rifle.

Crude, Vulgar, or Profane Language: RARE

  • God’s name is invoked once, but not as profanity.
  • Hell is used once.

Sexual Content: NONE

Drug/Alcohol: RARE

  • One settler tells a story of interest when he is drunk enough for the alcohol to loosen his tongue.
  • Whiskey is used for medicinal purposes during an amputation.
  • A friend gets a man drunk to take his mind off what is happening to the man’s brother.
  • Herbs are used for their magical properties in spell casting.

Negative Content:

  • A man disinherits his son because he disagrees with his son’s choice of education.
  • A new settler won’t listen to advice; he and his family are killed by animals.
  • The Rationalists are openly hostile to Eff and her survey party.
  • Lan suffers from depression following his long recovery from an injury. Eff is more than half convinced that he is suicidal.

Spiritual Content:

  • The characters are strongly moral people; however, no particular religious beliefs are in evidence.
  • At the funeral of a settler, a man reads a psalm from the Bible.
  • A building is described as being similar to an old church.
  • Everyone has magical powers, and children learn spell casting as a matter of course in their schooling.  Curiously, one group of people who call themselves “Rationalists” prefer to live without magic, surviving by their reason and ability to invent ways to get around the need for magic.
  • Some people, like Lan, have a greater store of magic than others.  He has a heaping double helping of magic because he is a double seventh son.
  • There are several branches of magic described in the book, and people are rather prejudiced by the branch of magic they grow up with and learn in school.

My Personal Opinions:

Across the Great Barrier is an action adventure story with a thoughtful side. Ms. Wrede has been writing professionally for over thirty years, and her experience shows in the craftsmanship of her work.  The Lexile of the books is fairly high, but the stories are appropriate for Teen readers as well as Young Adults.

Eff is such a sympathetic character that people of all ages can identify with her struggles, and she describes the people around her in such a way that the colorful cast of characters step off the page and come alive.

Across the Great Barrier is RECOMMENDED by


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About the Author

Kathrese McKee started life as a Systems Engineer at EDS, spent time in real estate, taught middle grade Reading and ESL in Texas, and settled down to blog and write speculative fiction for Young Adults.

As a teacher, she fell in love with books written for Teens and Young Adults. Her favorite books are “coming of age” stories about young people on the difficult road of self-discovery.

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