I immediately devoured the ARC in June and posted my initial thoughts on Goodreads, but now that the actual novel is available for sale, THIS is the time to tell you all to go read it!
First of all, isn't that an eye-catching cover? Love it! But just wait until you read the story. I think Barbara's books are hard to write about because so much of their appeal has to do with her vigorous use of language, and the quiet accumulation of detail which soaks in almost unnoticed but results in a feeling of having dived down deep into another world. This is how I tried, on Goodreads, to capture the saturated goodness of The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester:
I loved how she built the novel around key sounds---of the passing train, the "fantastic secret's" bumpy arrival, the captured frog's throaty calls, the irritated housekeeper's carping (reminiscent of the faceless adults in Charlie Brown), the one-way conversations with the ill grandfather, the recurring verbal battles between the boys and the lone girl---and many more subtle acoustic details that give the book the wondrous feeling that you are underwater where sounds are magnified.
What's funny is that I didn't even notice the acoustic emphasis until I finished reading and was in the middle of trying to analyse the story. It was like being clued in to a magician's trick. Ohhhhhh. So that's it! Except with each book, Barbara O'Connor seems to conjure up a fresh and intriguing "it."
Go trap your own copy and tell me what you think her "fantastic secret" to writing book after great book is. I wanna know!
For a detailed review (more articulate than mine), see Fizzwhizzing Flushbunker.