If you loved They Threw Us Away, the first book in Daniel Kraus’s Teddies Saga, then you’re gonna love They Stole Our Hearts. As the second part of this series, They Stole Our Hearts offers everything that made the first book so intriguing alongside a healthy helping of world-building, character development, and big answers. It’s a thrilling, fast-paced, and quick read. And I dare you to stop yourself from reading the whole thing in a single sitting. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: I received a review copy of They Stole Our Hearts from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group/Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) and NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.
They Stole Our Hearts
Written by Daniel Kraus; illustrated by Rovina Cai
The teddies—clever Buddy, brave Sunny, sweet Sugar, and wise Reginald—have managed to find a child. Life with Darling is far better than any they’ve known. But something’s not right—the promised bliss of Forever Sleep hasn’t come. And they are kept a secret from Darling’s mother, hidden underneath the child’s bed in the dusty darkness.
Then the inevitable happens: Mama discovers the teddies. And like all adults they’ve met thus far, she responds with fear and anger. The teddies must watch as one of their friends is destroyed. The remaining trio barely escape, thrust back into a world that does not want them.
Disillusioned and lost, the teddies embark on a journey back to the factory where they were created. En route, they find a civilization of discarded teddy bears. The comfort of a town of teddies has its allure…but the need for answers weighs heavy. And there’s something definitely off about these new teddies. Will our heroes accept their strange rules? Or must they dig deep for one more grand adventure to finally learn why they were thrown away?
Picking up shortly after They Threw Us Away, They Stole Our Hearts finds the teddies – Buddy, Sunny, Reginald, and Sugar – living the quiet life with their new owner, Darling. Except things don’t feel right. For starters, Darling has to keep the teddies hidden from her mother. And the promised Forever Sleep continues to elude the teddies, filling them with doubt about whether or not they’ve truly found their home. Then, disaster strikes, forcing the teddies back onto the streets, in search of why all adults seem to hate Furrington Teddies. On the whole, it’s a fast-paced, thrilling read. While it’s not quite as action-packed as the first book, and the middle of the book does sag a bit, it’s still deeply exciting and often viscerally creepy. In fact, it probably pushes the boundaries of what most people think middle-grade books can be.
Put simply, They Stole Our Hearts is the Empire Strikes Back of the Teddies Saga. Here, Kraus begins answering some of the series’ fundamental questions while challenging the Teddies like never before. I mean, things get quite dark – and even a little brutal. In fact, much of the book reminds me of the Lotso plot in Toy Story 3. But way creepier and more cult-ish. And I love it. As a kid, I loved books that felt a little dangerous to read, like I really shouldn’t be allowed to read them. That darkness adds a bit of an edge to the book, and it gets you all the more invested in the characters’ plights. And speaking of answers, this book does answer one of the series’ central questions – why has the world discarded the Furrington Teddies? The answer is simple but oh-so-effective. Genuinely creepy, and quite heartbreaking.
The biggest joy continues to be the way Kraus develops the characters. Yes, this is a middle-grade book, but Kraus doesn’t pull any punches. In They Stole Our Hearts, the Teddies experience some big, often disturbing hardships. Hardships that change the teddies on a fundamental level. And Kraus trusts that his audience can handle these themes. Which pays off royally. Buddy remains the focus of the book, and his growth continues to be intriguing. He’s a leader, sure, but it doesn’t always come easy to him. And watching him struggle with making decisions that might not be what he wants to do, but would be in the group’s best interests, continues to be a delight. As does his gradual increase in bravery. This Buddy is almost unrecognizable from the Buddy we met at the beginning of They Threw Us Away. And I mean that in the best way possible.
Unfortunately, the other teddies don’t get anywhere near as much development, often because this book features fewer quiet, self-reflective moments than the last one. That’s not to say that they’re given no development. Just that they’re not really the focus. In fact, it frequently feels like They Stole Our Hearts is more interested in exploring the world of the Teddies Saga, and setting up events for the next book, than in exploring its characters. And honestly, that’s kind of okay. The first book did such a good job of developing all of the Teddies that we already have a pretty good understanding of who they are. So, this is the perfect time to dive deeper into the world that surrounds them. I just hope there’s more time in the next book to see how everything the teddies learn in the latter half of They Stole Our Hearts changes them.
All in all, though, They Stole Our Hearts is an excellent sequel. It takes everything that worked about They Threw Us Away, ratchets them to an eleven, and pushes them to their breaking points. Kraus’s writing achieves that perfect balance of detail and fluidity. He gives you just enough detail to help you visualize what’s going on without bogging you down with too much detail. In fact, They Stole Our Hearts is a brisk read in the best way possible. It’s one of those books that’s incredibly easy to read in a single sitting. It’s quick-paced and the writing deftly ushers you through the story in such a way that there’s never really a moment where you’ll want to set the book down. And let’s not forget Rovina Cai’s gorgeous illustrations. Perfectly capturing both the beauty and the horror found in Kraus’s prose, Cai’s illustrations bring the world of the Teddies Saga to life.
Whether you’re a young reader or an old one, They Stole Our Hearts is bound to capture your attention. And with everything that happens here, I can’t wait to see where Kraus takes the series next.
Note: This review was also posted on Geek Vibes Nation.