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The Outcasts    by L. S. Matthews order for
by L. S. Matthews
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Just perusing L.S. Matthews' Note from the Author in The Outcasts gets the reader's adrenaline pumping. We're told that Bettiscombe Manor in Bridport, Dorset, is 'famous for the legend of its screaming skull' that is 'believed to have come from Pilsdon Pen, the Iron Age burial site.' Apparently 'to be stabbed by the Bridport Dagger' meant to be hanged, as rope for the hangman's noose was made there. Matthews tells us: 'My grandmother was a net maker there at fourteen, and I the author live in one of the net-makers' cottages.'

Out of a group of twenty students from Briarwood School, five sixth-formers are chosen to embark on a field trip. The five are considered misfits; they don't participate in class or extracurricular activities. The destination: Bettiscombe Manor, an ancient burial ground known for a screaming skull. The students are split into groups under tour guides: Johan, an ecologist from Australia; David, a physicist; and Gwyn, a biologist and chemist. Iz is a prankster with a high IQ and high grades. He's had many stepdads. Joe's mum drinks and takes pills. Helen argues with teachers. At home she tends to her siblings, sometimes missing school days, and there's little time for a social life. Chris is smart but sluggish and good at multitasking. Mia says little and copes badly with harsh noises, but with the help of the Learning Support Room works on social skills.

Arriving at the Manor, Iz and Joe overhear a conversation between guides Johan and David. It seems the skull has gone amiss for some reason and they're frantic to find it. When they follow Johan into the Professor's Room a captivating adventure begins for the five outcasts, a tour full of obstacles. Johan disappears from the room, there is 'suddenly a dull boom ... walls and floors shake'. The five find themselves on their hands and knees on damp, soft ground and grass, with an encircling, immense blur that grows dimmer as they walk toward it. An adventure begins of 'dimension shifters, slippers, and sliders', requiring the solving of puzzles to pass safely through obstacles on their journey. They are in a place where time is different than in the world they left.

In The Outcasts, L.S. Matthews weaves a flawless story, capturing the imagination and whirling it into new dimensions, starring five misfits making discoveries about themselves and each other, while tossing and turning in otherworldly predicaments.

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