From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 6-9–Once upon a time, in a faraway country, there was a woman who lived by herself in the middle of a great forest. Thus begins this literary fairy tale of a witch who takes into her home an ugly, abandoned infant whom she calls Lump. Wise in the ways of magic, the witch is inexpert in the ways of motherhood and so she appoints, in turn, a bear as his nursemaid and a djinni as his tutor. As predicted by her cat familiar, all does not go well and the witch is forced to give up her magic to save the boy. The adolescent Lump, far from being grateful for her sacrifice, becomes increasingly troublesome. Gruber incorporates well-known tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and Rumplestiltskin into his narrative, giving readers a different, and sometimes more frightening, take on these childhood staples. The inclusion of these retellings and the elegance with which the author shapes his fable will appeal to readers who love to immerse themselves in the complex reworked fairy tales of Donna Jo Napoli. This is not a quick read, but it is an engrossing and enormously satisfying one.–Sharon Grover, Arlington County Department of Libraries, VA
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*Starred Review* Gr. 6-9. From the hypnotic mask on the cover to its perfect fairy-tale ending, this astonishing fantasy compels readers onward. Gruber, the author of several adult thrillers, has done much more than offer a well-structured adventure, full of mystery and magic--though he certainly does all that. He also plumbs the depths of the human heart and lays bare its emotions in a way that causes readers to respond instinctively. The story begins when a witch finds a baby so ugly that the note with it reads, "the devil's child for the devil's wife." The witch has no business with a child, but she fancies it, so she gets a bear to be its nanny and a hideous djinni to tutor it. Then she continues her life in service to her goddess. The more the witch underestimates parental responsibilities, the more hurt and angry the boy, Lump, becomes. Gruber cleverly weaves elements from familiar fairy tales into a saga that moves across forest, earth, and sea. But even more astute is his portrayal of the characters, especially Lump and his mother, who, locked in their own selfishness, must fight through disappointment, hatred, and anger to find forgiving love. This can be read at several levels, but those who plumb the deepest will reap the greatest reward. Ilene Cooper
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