This was supposed to be for ‘a book that came out the year you were born,’ but apparently the list I used to find this book was incorrect, and it actually came out several years later. So scratch that; this one now checks off the item for ‘a book originally written in a different language.’
The Prince of Mist, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, is a middle-grade novel about three kids exploring the mystery of a strange garden full of statues behind a beach house by the sea. It’s got elements of horror, mystery, and supernatural in it, and the villain is a Faustian-style magician out to collect on a debt made by one of the kids’ father. It’s got a great atmosphere, and I loved the subtle use of magic that wasn’t ever really explained. Unlike Harry Potter or A Darker Shade of Magic, you get the sense that these powers are magical but you never find out exactly how the villain is doing it.
At the end of my copy, there’s a lovely Q&A with Zafon, conducted by a fellow author. He talks quite a bit about the process of translating it from the original Spanish, which I appreciated. Zafon is bilingual himself and splits his time between Barcelona and Los Angeles, and during the translation process, if the translator couldn’t come up with a satisfying way to translate something, Zafon would go back and rewrite whole paragraphs in English to make sure they conveyed the same intention. I found the whole Q&A fascinating.