This story is split into three parts and when I got to the end of the first, below is verbatim what I jotted now in my notebook:
"Part one: absolutely delightful. I love the magic and the young witch that Ashley has created. I love the way that Charlotte connects with nature. I love the ragtag gang of earth kids and journeying with them as they are stranded in the strange new world. So far the story feels fresh and exciting. So far the story has touched on bullying and feeling like you never fit in."
I didn't take any notes after parts one and two - I was just racing through to the end. And once I got there I would have happily kept on reading.
The Portal is the first book in Ashley's Tales of Mentara series, with the second installment planned for april next year (2019). The series intends to follow the main set of characters as they grow from middle graders into teens and on. In this the first book the eldest of the main characters is 12, but due to their life circumstances most of them act quite mature for their age. I actually kept forgetting that they were meant to be middle graders, I kept seeing 15/17 yr olds in my head. I am looking forward to seeing these kids grow and seeing the dynamics of their relationships change. I'm especially keen on seeing how Charottle's whitchly powers develop as she ages and what becomes of Thomas's health.
The YAY parts: The ragtag group of earth kids stranded in a strange new world. Their adventures in a new world. The tribe of native war orphans who accept the earthlings into their ranks. The way Charlotte connects to the world around her. The story touching on bullying, acceptance and the beauty of nature.
The NAY parts: To me the Characters felt older than they were meant to be and as such I had some Huh? moments, but not enough to disrupt the story flow or hinder my enjoyment too much. And damn, it was so long ago that I was twelve how would I know how a twelve year olds think and behave these days.
Conclusion: A fantastical tale of friendship, nature magic and mysterious new worlds - best suited to the younger YA audience.