The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter
Otto, Lucia, and Max Hardscrabble have written a book, or at least one of them has, but we will never know which one. They live with their father, an artist who paints portraits of defunct royal families. When the children are sent away to London to stay with a cousin, said cousin turns out to be on Holiday. So the siblings venture to a small village where their Aunt is currently living in a miniature castle and harbors some very deep secrets, ones that she may just want the children to discover if they are up to the task.
In the vein of "The Series of Unfortunate Events" and "Coraline", Kneebone Boy manages to feel haunting and dark, yet stays grounded in reality. Often, the book felt like it was heading in the direction of the supernatural with whispers of a mysterious boy locked in away within a castle, rat filled dungeons, and one very grumpy taxidermist. The writer, whichever Hardscrabble it may be, takes great cares though to inform the reader that under no circumstances is this book to be considered a fantasy. Although the author does promise one ghost, although even that has a logical explanation.
With all the running around and breaking into castles and lost princes in the forest, I couldn't help but think the end was a little anti-climactic and enormously sad. Then I must remind myself that a children's book does not need to have a perfect happy ending, just one of hope. And there is hope for the children. Hope that their lives can become more normal, well as normal as they are at least, now that they have learned the truth.
I loved the style in which Potter wrote the story, with three very interesting and unique characters. It was funny and engaging, just don't expect the end to be all tied up in a bow.
One last thing...I love the cover art by Jason Chan. Really engaging and captures the characters perfectly, right down to the scarf Otto is wearing.
A child sits alone on a playground. The loud noises and bustling children make it hard for him to join in the fun. So he makes himself a paper airplane and flies away, imagining all kinds of fun. When he lands, a little girl retrieves the plane and the beginning of a quiet friendship is underway.
With its sparse text and beautiful illustrations, Reynolds has written another wonderful story. By page three I was completely aware that the child in the story was autistic. This is a rare find. Not only because it is a picture book that isn't one of those, "Sally Has Autism" books, but also because it is told with such simplicity and not once did Reynolds feel it necessary to inform the reader why the child is not playing with the others. If the reader picks this up then good, if not, that is fine too for the story stands on its own. Even without words, it is great. See for yourself:
After a terrible plague ravages the earth and 98% of the world’s population has died, Eve is taken to an orphanage where the girls are trained in math, science, decorum, art, and music. Eve is about to graduate and will soon be attending University, all in an effort to help rebuild America. Then Eve learns the truth, that the girls are going to be used for breeding not their brains and she can look forward to a life of multiples childbirth until her body gives out. Escaping, leaving all her friends behind, Eve goes out into the world that she has been sheltered from for so long, a world full of men. But perhaps all the things she has been taught were wrong. Or maybe not.
In the tradition of The Stand by Stephen King, Eve uses a bit overused premise of a humanity offing plague as a jumping off point to play around with the future. Despite such an obvious premise, the plot rolls along rather nicely and Eve is naive enough to make her an interesting character to discover this dystopian world with. As a reader the parts I found most interesting were Eve’s distorted views of men, literature, and society. The reader is well-aware of Eve’s knowledge shortcomings and it is her discovery of the truth that is the most engaging part of the story.
That said, the romance within the story felt a little shallow. Eve falls in love with the first young man she meets, who happens to be a nice guy and that’s it. Sure, romance goes in the face of all she has been taught about men, but it felt too well put together and for a book that was showing the world at its grittiest, the romance story was one giant sparkle. Perhaps that is what the author wanted, a shining moment in an otherwise chaotic story.
Also, the world in which Eve lives did not pan logically. Why, if the girls are just going to be used as baby birthing machines, were they trained in science and art. What purpose does that serve? Would it not be easier to have the girls be treated like Annie and then one day take them away? And why are children, orphans, being used as slave labor. Children are weaker than adults and I would imagine that hard labor would be rather counter productive. In a society where there are only perhaps 60,000-80,000 people left in the entire United States, it seems stupid to waste people.
As usual, Eve will clearly be part of a series, because heaven help up, we can’t seem to tell an entire story in one novel. I haven’t yet decided if this is a writing issue or a publishing issue, but either way, past sci-fi authors have proven that a good story can be told in one go. Eve is a nice addition to this new Dystopian Romantic Sci-Fi genre, but I would prefer my sci-fi to have a little more substance beyond a love story.
Eleven-year-old Tycho is digging in his garden when he stumbles upon an odd egg-shaped object. With a little experimentation, he quickly discovers that it is a device for time travel. But when Tycho travels to his future he discovers a self that isn't exactly what he dreamed he would be. As he travels back and forth in time, playing tricks on his bossy older siblings, his futures grow more and more ominous. The question then becomes, how can Tycho not become the monster he seems destined to become?
Time travel is a difficult and complex issue to broach in fiction. Michael Crichton, H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, Arthur C. Clarke, Madeline L'Engle, and Rebecca Stead have all tried it with varying degrees of success. Doctor Who, the Time Lord himself, has even grown a little convoluted as of late. The Green Futures of Tycho is a classic, but one that I don't think should have been forgotten.
Sleator approaches time travel with his usual psychological mind twists. Tycho is not an unlikable character, but with each future trip he finds a more and more horrifying version of himself. Worse, with every change he makes in the past, something gets tweaked in the present which makes his future worse. The book is small, but Sleator manages to pack just enough character, passion, adventure, and questions that the book will remain with you.
William Sleator passed away on August 3 and I thought it would be fitting to share such a wonderful little but by a brilliant writer.
Other Notable Books by William Sleator:
House of Stairs
The Spirit House
The Boy Who Couldn't Die
The Last Universe
Among the Dolls