What follows is a booktalk for a title on our Mock Printz shortlist. We hope you’ll be able to join us at the event where our winner will be chosen! This booktalk was written by Lisa Elliott of Tigard Public Library.
The underground world of Caverna is home to master crafters who create exotic and often magical delicacies. Their wines can erase or restore memories, their perfumes can intoxicate and enchant, and their cheeses can cause hallucinations or explosions. When Neverfell is a young child, she appears in the tunnels of Master Grandible, one of Caverna’s most highly regarded cheesemakers who, in spite of the aristocratic status that comes with his craftsmanship, has rejected the Court and keeps to himself behind intricately locked and booby-trapped doors. He discovers Neverfell in a vat of curds, and takes her under his wing as his apprentice. He also insists that she wear a mask and never reveal her face to strangers, because within it contains horrors Grandible refuses to explain.
By the time Neverfell is a teenager, she grows restless and escapes the cheesemaker’s tunnels and finds herself in a world of intrigue so complex, it is impossible to distinguish enemies from allies, especially considering Caverna’s most curious peculiarity: All of its citizens are born with blank faces and must learn facial expressions. The lower class drudges are taught only friendly, subservient faces, and the upper classes pay top-dollar for a huge variety of expressions they use to help them lie and manipulate in order to gain advantage in the Court. Neverfell’s entrance into this society immediately causes a stir, especially once the face under her mask is revealed. She finds herself a key figure of plot after plot, until she finally gets fed up with being a pawn and decides to take the fate of all of Caverna into her own hands.