Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter

Unbelievable. I wrote a clever intro to this review on the church bulletin (during the sermon, shh...), then sang in the choir during the offering, only to forget about my cleverly written thingamajig on the bulletin and tossing it, unthinkingly, into the recycle bin. Alas, my lost masterpiece is enroute to some recycling plant in Taiwan. Ironically, the intro was regarding how I can forget my original web searches through hyperlinking too many times. Hyperlinking, went the other intro, can lead to many other interesting searches but if you have a lost, random brain like mine, it's easy to shoot off after these distractions becoming a lost piece of cyber debris. This book was like that for me. I found the writing interesting, chapters unpredictable, characters strong and voices distinct, but the plot confusing, with too many hanging clues, and some characters too out-there to be believeable. I preface this because my analysis might be tainted from an overstimulated brain from work being more bonkers than normal or a cough developed from chain-smoking Beijing's polluted air from a business trip a few weeks ago. So here goes... the review that is...

An unknown narrator explains that Otto, Max, and Lucia Hardscrabble's mother went missing when they were very young and the trio obsesses about whether or not their mother is dead or coming back. All three were affected by her disappearance. Thirteen-year-old Otto quit talking afterwards and invented a type of signing to communicate with his siblings. A wrapped scarf mysteriously never leaves his neck. Rumors in their small town say that he strangled his mother with it. Lucia (the middle sibling - I never found her age) tries to be the brave sister who takes care of her brothers. She needs them to be dependent on her so she doesn't feel abandoned and alone. Ten-year-old genius Max, has a stuffed animal named Spoon that he is attached to after their mother disappeared. The father, Casper, doesn't pay close attention to the children and travels often leaving them with a nasty neighbor. Freud could feast on this Hardscrabble situation.

When Casper goes on a business trip and sends the threesome to London to stay with cousin Angela, things go horribly wrong. Angela is not home and the Hardscrabbles are forced to sleep outside. They get attacked on the streets of London before hopping a train to seek out great-aunt Haddie Piggit whom they know is residing by the sea in a small town. Once in town they ask for help from a "great boulder of a man" with "a powerful nose and a chin that looked like it could hammer a nail into concrete." He helps them and thus begins their adventures with Aunt Haddie at a castle and the mystery of the Kneebone boy.

The author has some great lines. Of course my favorite was: "Memory, in my opinion, is a complete noodle. It hangs on the silliest things but forgets the stuff that really matters." (35) Yup... that's moi. Or "Lucia puffed out her nostrils. It was a lovely gesture of contempt that she used quite often." Or "It was the right and responsible thing to do, so they put it off until later." (122) The narrator talks about the structure of writing a story and pokes fun at the plot. I liked this ploy and found it funny in spots such as the one on cliches, "He says that one way to tell if a phrase is overused is if you have heard it in an advertisement. For instance, ...The Such Fun Chewing Gum company promises that their gum will give you a 'dazzling smile,' so I suppose it is a cliche, but the thing is, the sultan's smile was dazzling. It was the sort of smile that made you smile back before you even knew what you were doing." (264) The use of repetition and play on words are also scattered throughout the pages. I liked the experimentation with words and words choices even though some were crude.

The plot. The adults seem to abandon the kids too much. First the dad just sends them off without getting the details right. Then Angela's neighbor is a nasty piece of work who doesn't help the kids. Then the dogwalker abandons them and offers no assistance. In the small town the kids are abandoned at the castle. Haddie also abandons them on their hunt for the Kneebone boy. I thought this pattern was used too much to advance the plot and should have varied more.

Many clues and characters that are introduced just disappear from the plot making it a tad confusing, particularly in the beginning of the story. First, the narrator's identity is never revealed. A bone in chapter one seems significant, but isn't. Max loses Spoon, his supposedly super-duper important stuffed toy, but we never find out what happened to it. Then there are the come-and-go characters of Brenda, Frogface, Willow girl, and Angela's neighbor. I kept waiting for them to crop up again in the story but they vanish from the story line like a wisp of smoke. Saint George is worked in nicely in the second half of the story and I kept thinking that would happen with one of the minor characters in the beginning, but it doesn't and I was left feeling a little muddled by the plot. On the plus side it did make the chapters unpredictable.

There is some swearing by Haddie in a letter and the nasty neighbor man. There is a comment when Lucia asks if her brothers noticed the mysterious person in the window has to be a woman because she has breasts. There are also some crude spots and crude words that seem for older kids like, "piss, crap, stupid, shut up." Another part has the three using a toilet and an adult noticing the smell when she discovers them locked in a room in the castle. I was bothered by Otto's violent attack on the tattoo guy. Even though the tattoo guy attacked the trio first, Otto goes beyond defense mode and into combat mode. His violent reaction was unsettling. I also felt uncomfortable with the resolution of the children's mother and the father's mishandling of her situation. It made me feel sort of ill, especially since her illness is one I've had relatives battle. I do know other readers who love this book, so this is a matter of personal taste.

Stuck with an evil spawn of a teenager? Or maybe a cranky friend? You can try this doozy of a one-liner, "No back talk, thou spleeny canker blossom." You might want to practice it first. It doesn't roll off the tongue easily.

Reading Level 5.5
3 out of 5 Smileys

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