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The Kneebone Boy Hardcover – September 14, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 6-8–Otto, Lucia, and Max are the Hardscrabble children, and one of them is the unidentified narrator. Otto, the oldest, hasn't spoken out loud since he was eight, when the children's mother vanished. Their father, Casper Hardscrabble, paints portraits of royal families, returning with stories of their adventures to tell his children. When he sends them to London to stay with his cousin, who turns out to be away on holiday, they make their way to their great-aunt Haddie, who lives in a life-size playhouse castle behind a forbiddingly real castle, once owned by the Kneebone family. From their great-aunt and others, the Hardscrabbles learn about the Kneebone boy, locked away in a tower in the castle because of some unnamed deformity, and decide that they must rescue him. Instead, their mission leads to the resolution of their own family mystery. This odd book doesn't know if it wants to be an "Unfortunate Events" clone or a straightforward mystery. It's certainly not a fantasy, as the narrator takes pains to make clear that anything magical in the book only appears to be magical and has a rational, logical explanation. That makes sense with the rational, logical explanation presented for Tess Hardscrabble's disappearance, which is actually very sad and distressing. Ultimately, there is little to care about here; not the characters, the plot, or the resolution, all of which makes The Kneebone Boy a low-priority purchase.Tim Wadham, St. Louis County Library, MO
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

Hilarious and heartbreaking, wild and down-to-earth, this story of dark family secrets starts off with all the conventional quest clichés. Since the three Hardscrabble kids’ mother mysteriously disappeared five years earlier, Dad will not talk about her, and the eldest, Otto, now 13, only communicates through sign language. After the kids get a hint that Mama may still be alive, they take off to find her, first in London and then in a small seaside town, where they search through a castle with dungeons, dragons, and secret passageways and try to save a young sultan held prisoner in a wild forest. Even fantasy fans may tire of the contrivances, but Potter keeps this genre adventure moving briskly, and the very end brings a huge surprise that Dad’s been in on all along. The combination of fantasy and realism makes a compelling story, and young people will relate easily to the characters’ struggles. As the author tells the reader, “All great adventures have moments that are really crap.” Grades 5-8. --Hazel Rochman

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 9 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 850L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031237772X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312377724
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,988,066 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By The Invisible Pam TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"The Kneebone Boy" has gotten all sorts of **starred** praise and it well deserves it in my opinion. It's a book that manages to be whimsical and magical, and yet realistic and emotionally moving as well. It's one of my favorite books for the year. Up there with The Last Summer Of The Death Warriors. (And if you haven't read this other book, get to it. It's a marvelous YA read.)

Ellen Potter's writing is thoroughly British and very witty. The kids are quirky but lovable, and their discussions with each other are intelligent and filled with filial warmth. (I'm perfectly bored with your usual dysfunctional family at this point, so this was salve for the soul.)

Their story is a two pronged Gothic thriller. One fork being what exactly happened to their mother-- who suddenly disappeared one night; the other being who is the mysterious Kneebone Boy in the mansion they come to live near.

I'd write more but I think the less said the better. This is a book to just pick up without much foreknowledge, so you can be swept away trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

Great read. Great fun. Suitable for Middle-graders and YA and even older folk.

Pam T~
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm not exactly sure how I came to find this book on the Amazon site, but I am thrilled that I did. Here's why.

This book works as a mystery, as an Enid Blyton style adventure, as a fantasy, as a bittersweet memory piece, and as meta-fiction. How's that for a double hat trick?

The book is ostensibly a story being told after the fact by one of the Hardscrabble children. Accordingly, many observations and asides are aimed directly at the reader, as a reader, including a number of observations about the difficulties involved in telling the story and writing a book. Usually I don't care much for this device because the authors who do it, (from Pseudonymous Bosch to David Foster Wallace), usually can't resist being cute, coy or patronizing. Well, in this case the author is charming, observant, generous and briskly efficient. There is an awful lot of deadpan humor, and this is the first middle grade book I've read that can be described as "droll", where that's a good thing. I just have not read, recently or maybe ever, a book like this with such an engaging and charming narrator.

Now, that alone is enough to recommend the book. The plot is clever, the adventure is in the grand style, (hidden passages, a castle, a tiny castle folly, secrets and discoveries, and so on). The solution to the mystery is satisfying. And, as a bonus, many of the secondary characters are well developed and interesting. Even more, just the conversations among and between the Hardscrabble children are entertaining.

But, here's the real bonus. This is a story about older brother, middle sister, younger brother. Each has a very distinct personality, and each personality is tweaked to avoid the usual conventions.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book feels like Coraline meets The Penderwicks. Maybe with a little Lemony Snickett thrown in for good measure. The Kneebone Boy is dark and wry and clever and convoluted--which is pretty much what its three main characters, two brothers and a sister, are like.

Otto hasn't spoken in years; he communicates with an invented sign language that only his siblings understand. Otto always wears a black scarf that his missing mother left him. Lucia (pronounced the Italian way!) uses her imagination to get them in trouble, though the boys seem capable of finding trouble without her help. And Max knows so many things that he gets on people's nerves just a tiny bit even though he isn't actually a show-off. The author cheerily makes all three kids good-looking, but then, they are still social pariahs because they are just plain weird, plus there are some creepy rumors floating around about what happened to their mother.

As for their father, every so often he goes on trips to paint portraits of eccentric deposed royals, leaving his children with an awful woman who makes Max squeeze the oily cyst on her neck. But this time, they are going to stay with their aunt in London. Only--she isn't there. Instead of going back to Little Tunks, the three kids stay in the city. They soon have a scary run-in with a Londoner and decide to make their way to a seaside village in search of their great-aunt, who turns out to be a colorful young woman renting a folly that's a replica of Kneebone Castle for the summer. The folly is only accessible by aerial bicycle. (How else would you cross the moat?)

Which only begins to hint at the over-the-top details in this book, not to mention the shivery gothic mysteries. The biggest one is what happened to the kids' mother.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a book that will appeal to Lemony Snicket fans, to Douglas Adams fans, to anyone who like intelligent humor mixed with an oddball story with oddball characters.

I'm keeping this review short and sweet, because honestly it's that simple--the book is great. The writing and characterization is awesome, and the voice completely sucked me in. And, as the title of my review states, I laughed out loud in so many places.
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