"When Eddie Dickens was eleven years old, both his parents caught some awful disease that made them turn yellow, go a bit crinkly around the edges, and smell of old hot water bottles." So begins author Philip Ardagh's silly story of an ill-fated boy who, due to his parents' jaundiced condition, is forced to take part in a quest so preposterous that it could only conclude at A House Called Awful End
. Set in England, back in the days when "postage stamps were a pretty new idea," Eddie finds himself put in the dubious care of his Mad Uncle Jack and Mad Aunt Maud, who not only assault him with a stuffed stoat and make him sleep in his trunk, but carelessly turn him over to the St. Horrid's Home for Grateful Orphans. There, he stages a breakout, smuggles himself and the other orphans out in the belly of a cow parade float, and is miraculously reunited with his newly recovered parents. And if you're thinking that this plot is utter nonsense, you're absolutely right. Ardagh originally wrote the ridiculous farce as a series of letters to entertain his nephew in boarding school and thought it may charm others as well. While adult readers may scratch their heads in bewilderment as they try to follow this riotously rambling narrative, children have long been aficionados of the absurd, and Awful End
will no doubt appeal hugely to those fans of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events and Neil Gaiman's wonderfully weird Coraline
. Book one in a proposed trilogy. (Ages 9 to 12) --Jennifer Hubert
From Publishers Weekly
British author Ardagh launches the Eddie Dickens Trilogy with this tongue-in-cheek tale of a hapless youth. A group of cockamamy adults manufactures most of the humor while the hero plays straight man: 11-year-old Eddie is sent away by his ailing parents so that he will be spared their ill health. His mother calls him Jonathan ("for Jonathan was the pet name she called Eddie when she couldn't remember his real one"), and his father sends the boy packing with his (truly) Mad Uncle Jack. Most of the novel follows the boy, his uncle and his Mad Aunt Maud and her stuffed stoat, Malcolm (whom Jack calls Sally), as they travel via stagecoach to their home, Awful End (they never get there). "To break the journey, Mad Uncle Jack stopped at a coaching inn called The Coaching Inn." Here things take a turn, and when events land Eddie in St. Horrid's Home for Grateful Orphans, he gets to show his stuff. The omniscient narrator spoofs Charles Dickens's orphan tales with his offhand quips (when Eddie is suddenly thrust into the orphanage, the narrator remarks, "Perhaps we'll never find out how he ended up in this godforsaken place. Perhaps we'll find out in the next episode"). Roberts's hilarious pen-and-ink drawings of wide-eyed Eddie and his insane family resemble a cross between Charles Addams and Edward Gorey. Adult fans of Bleak House and Oliver Twist will appreciate Ardagh's clever crafting, and kids who lap up Lemony Snicket's series will take quickly to this tale and clamor for the next. Ages 9-up.
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