Maeve O'Connor yearns for escape. It's bad enough she's a "Plain Jane", she can't even get a role in the school play because she's not one of the popular crowd. To make matters worse, her parents are embroiled in a squabble that is set to explode and Maeve is powerless to do anything about it. Then when her parents send her off to spend the summer in Newfoundland, Maeve isn't sure what to think. Are they just trying to get rid of her? Or do they really want her to get to know her relatives better?
Maeve is certainly curious about the isle and intrigued by the part her family has played in its history as well as by the stories of the fairies that are part of Newfoundland's folk culture. She has always felt an affinity with the Rock because of the special relationship she shared with her grandmother who lived there all her life. Grandmother O'Connor had written a children's book that Maeve had especially loved; it mixed fiction with folklore and followed a young girl's adventure into a hidden world, Annwn (pronounced An-noon), "a land of fairies and giants and dragons, of knights and kings". When Maeve discovers her grandmother's notebooks and a beautiful Celtic broach, she becomes even more interested in the island's Celtic lore.
But never in her wildest dreams did Maeve believe that she would really be able to enter that fictional hidden world. Then she stumbles on a portal into Annwn, and begins an amazing adventure that is packed with fairies, monsters, demons, and spirits, and she partakes in an exciting struggle between good and evil that changes her life.
Baird has created a stunning fantasy world using Celtic myths and legends, but with her own unique twist. The fantasy sections make for compelling reading, and the reader is just as surprised as Maeve is when she enters Annwn and discovers that this parallel world is as real as her own. Baird draws the reader in with Maeve gradually until we too are caught up in the spell that this other world casts. Baird also provides readers with a fairly thorough pronunciation guide to the Gaelic and Irish words. Where The Hidden World falters-not a lot, but just enough to give the reader pause-is in Baird's depiction of the here-and-now world that Maeve inhabits, and particularly the family crisis and its resolution. But with that said, the author also invitingly opens up a gateway for young adult readers into a well-realized world that combines history, mythology, folklore, and a darn good yarn to boot.