Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Pages: 368 (paperback)
Published: 2007 by Washington Square Press
Recommended for: readers who like "old-school" YA fantasy or retold fairy tales
I liked the look of The Book of Lost Things immediately, mostly because it reminded me of the kind of books I read almost exclusively when I was a pre-teen: fantasy stories where seemingly ordinary kids venture into fairy-tale worlds and must save the day/become king or queen. Narnia is, of course, pretty much the magical birthplace of those sub-genre, but there used to be so many books like that in the YA and MG genres. Anyway, I wasn't at all disappointed in this compulsively readable, imaginative, and creepier-than-it-looks book.
The main character David is a 12 year old English boy around the time of World War II, living with his code-breaker father, his new wife-- the stepmother David loathes--, and George, the new baby brother he resents. David's mother, who loved fairy tales and always got David to read them to her by her bedside, died of a slow and painful disease less than a year before the true start of the novel's "action". He misses her so badly that he even begins to hear her calling to him, beckoning to him in his bedroom in the attic and in the eerie garden by the house. Worse is the creepy "Crooked Man", a dark figure who David begins to see hanging around his room-- like a villain from one of the fairy tales which so remind him of his mother. When a German bomber crashes into his family's house, David takes the only escape route he knows through a strange and unexplained hole in the garden wall. He emerges from the trunk of a tree, surrounded by wolves who stand on two legs yet are more bestial than human, forced to face a world where his mother's fairy tales have become real-- only twisted and darker, sometimes funnier, than the original tales.
This book kind of has the feel of a fairy tale as you read it: the narration is nearly always omniscient third-person, and there is that distance from the characters which you get when you read old fairy tales. David, for example, isn't a bad protagonist (he's occasionally a little annoying with his hatred of his undeserving step-mother), but not one I could really connect with. The characters are mostly like fairy-tale archetypes (ie Old King, Woodcutter, Evil Powerful Villain), so don't read this one if you're looking for a really insightful read where you get to sympathize with the characters a lot.
I really enjoyed the way Connolly twisted the familiar fairy tales and folk legends into completely different stories. His version of Snow White and her seven dwarven companions, for example, is just too funny: Snow is more than a little crabby and the dwarfs are obsessed with a Communist revolution which will help the little people. There are wolves in the woods and monsters and evil sorceresses galore, and there is also the Crooked Man-- a really, really creepy antagonist the likes of which you don't usually see in books geared towards younger readers (I kind of hesitate to call this specifically MG or YA, because I'm not really sure). Let's just say I'll never think of Rumpelstiltskin the same way again. *Inserts random plug for another good book which will change your perspective on the fairy tale: The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde*.
The Book of Lost Things admittedly has little on the Chronicles of Narnia or my old favorite, Inkheart, when it comes to the kids-travelling-to-magical-and-possibly-imaginary-worlds type of books. But I enjoyed this book as a quick and enthralling read-- it was better than I expected, and I had a hunch it would be pretty good. Definitely a recommended one...