Have you ever read a children's book about a boy or girl who visits an eccentric relative's mansion for vacation? Oh--of course you have. Well, M.T. Anderson's The Game of Sunken Places is one such book. Thirteen-year-old Gregory Buchanan's Uncle Max is very strange, as Gregory is quick to tell his friend Brian Thatz whom he enlists to join him in Vermont. Uncle Max, or Maximilian Grendle, and Gregory's cousin Prudence live in the "kind of world where there's organ music that gets louder when he eats refined sugar." Well, not exactly, but that's a typical Gregory-style comment.
Brian and Gregory's adventure begins when they find an old board game called The Game of Sunken Places. As it turns out, the Game is reality, and the boys must participate and win in order to settle the score in an age-old battle of enchanted spirit-nations. The story involves Brian, the quieter, more sensible friend, coming into his own and proving that, though not flashy, he is capable and brave. In addition, it examines the lifelong friendship between two very different boys. Also a suspenseful adventure, the story leads the boys to an ax-wielding, riddle-bearing (and hilarious) troll, an ogre named Snarth, the wee elf Sniggleping (not as cute as he sounds), translucent ghost riders, and much more. While the dialogue is exceedingly smart and funny, and the characters vividly drawn, the story bogs down a bit in twists and turns, leaving the reader wishing for a road map as much as the boys wish they had one for the Game. Still, Anderson, author of the popular Burger Wuss, Thirsty, and Feed, surprises his fans again with something utterly new and different. (Ages 10 and older) --Karin Snelson
From School Library Journal
Grade 5-9–Thirteen-year-olds Brian Thatz and Gregory Buchanan accept a cryptic invitation to visit Gregory's weird Uncle Max and cousin Prudence in Vermont. Uncle Max, a Victorian-era throwback, greets them in a horse-drawn carriage and dispatches them to his creepy old manor house. Once there, he burns the boys' luggage and everything in it, forcing them into the heavy tweed knickerbockers and starched shirt collars he prefers. Then an all-consuming game begins, though the hapless boys are not informed of it. It subjects them to every fiend Anderson can imagine, from bridge trolls and ogres to nefarious man-monsters in billowing cloaks. The boys are confused, and readers are likely to be as well. Anderson's prose is deliberately disorienting and chaotic, and his characters are quick-witted and engaging. This is an action-packed adventure, but the convoluted story line, abrupt scene changes, and unstable landscape will not be everyone's cup of tea.–Catherine Threadgill, Charleston County Public Library, SC
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