I have heard lots of buzz about this book being turned into a movie. And I can see how–in the hands of talented actors, directors and designers–this could be a great adventure film for both young and old. The reason I say this is because I felt the narrative often got bogged down in descriptions of soil and rock and underground seepage, etc. but the action sequences are well-paced, suspenseful and exciting. AS a reader I usually lose interest in external descriptions which continue for longer than a few sentences. I am more likely to be taken in by lengthy character development aspects of a narrative.
Although I was bored with the physical descriptive passages I was completely engaged in the relationships of young Will–our main character–with his family and his friendship with his classmate, Chester. The family relationships that gradually emerge during the first third of Will’s story are intriguing and compelling. The odd, slightly dysfunctional way he, his parents and his sister each occupy their own independent orbits while staying in close proximity and occasional communication with each other is fascinating. It is alternately endearing and heart-breaking. The story drops some bombshell revelations about Will and his family about halfway through that I didn’t expect. Those deepened my fascination with Will’s story and gave me my reason to keep reading through the slower parts.
Will looks different from other kids. He is freakishly pale and has unnaturally white hair. Consequently he is teased and called names, picked on by the bullies at school. Friendless for most of his life, Will bonds with Chester Rawls. Due to Chester’s larger-than-average size he is also often the target of unkind words and deeds. Neither boy is prone to violence, but each in their own turn takes a stand physically against a particular bully. The boys bond over the fact that they have established limits to the abuse they will tolerate.
Will’s father, Dr. Burrows, runs the town’s small museum but is passionate about his own private excavations throughout the city. He pursues his own digs in secret–having had one spectacular discovery stolen from him previously. He allows Will to accompany him on these research digs. Will has inherited his father’s passion for archeological discovery. It is the thing over which the two of them have always connected. Will, wants to be closer to his father outside of these digs but comforts himself with the solace of working on these projects together with his dad.
Will has his own secret dig in progress as well! After he enlists Chester’s help with his project, they discover Dr. Burrows was working on something secretly too: a tunnel in the cellar of Will’s home. Will and Chester discover the mysterious tunnel after Dr. Burrows goes missing. The boys’ entrance into the tunnel beneath the house plunges them into an adventure horrifying and magnificent in its capacity for both cruelty and beauty.
In conclusion, I am glad I did choose to finish the book. The relationships and characters in the book are defintiely strong enough to supersede the problem I mentioned earlier of overly descriptive passages. Individuals who are strongly interested in the fantasy/sci-fi genre will probably enjoy Tunnels. (It is somewhat reminiscent of Jules Verne’s classic Journey to the Center of the Earth in theory and style.)
Be aware that Tunnels is the first book in a series so the reader should not expect all the plot points to be resolved at the end of the book. If you enjoy Tunnels the ending will certainly whet your appetite for the next book!