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The Kneebone Boy Hardcover – September 14, 2010
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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.
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
Top customer reviews
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. But these three siblings are totally supportive of and loyal to each other. There is a lot of amusing banter back and forth and some conflicts played for laughs. But overall it is clear that they admire each other, they care for each other and they are willing to protect and defend each other. I can't tell you how many books I've read for middle graders where the siblings either ignore each other, or subvert each other, or are just mean to each other. It was remarkably refreshing to have characters who worked as a team, who forgave each other, and who rooted for each other. What a bonus.
So, I don't know where this book has been hiding or why it hasn't gotten more buzz, (Feiwel and Friends is a small publisher, but it's an imprint of MacMillan). Maybe the book was viewed as too literary or a little too idiosyncratic for a big marketing event. Whatever the reason, if you're reading this you've found it now, and that is a very good thing. At a minimum, try the free sample first chapter above. You'll be glad you did.
My "in a nutshell" summary...
Three odd children...Otto, Max, and Lucia...pronounced Loo-Chee- ya... entertain themselves by partaking in a very odd adventure.
My thoughts after reading this book...
Love this book...love the way the author talks to the reader...the author shares his worries and concerns about the book with the reader and just causes the entire experience to be an amazing amount of fun! The three siblings are quirky, they have a weird father, a gross baby sitter and a mother who has disappeared without a trace! Plus they have a great aunt named Haddie who is not much older than they are. And we have not even talked about the Kneebone Boy yet! Whew!
Oh...and I totally forget to mention Chester...the cat with five legs and the fact that Otto refuses to take off his scarf and doesn't speak!
What I loved about this book...
I loved the chapter subtitles...my favorite one...Chapter 11 of which there are no vampires or ghosts but you will love it anyway.
I loved the story and the reality of this book. I love the way it is presented to its reader...sort of in a personal intimate manner...pretty cool!
What I did not love...
I expected more fantasy.
A fascinating story about an odd little family...I get the feeling that we are not quite finished with the Hardscrabbles and that is a good thing!
There's something on every page to astonish and delight: a phrase, an idea, a Viking taxidermist named St George.
Upon actually reading it properly, we discovered that The Kneebone Boy is Lemony Snicket meets E. Nesbit in a rollicking, hilariously strange family adventure story. What begins as our heroes' "vacation from being Hardscrabbles" becomes a quest for their missing mom--with an astonishing resolution.
Besides the Viking taxidermist named St George, you will meet the three Hardscrabble children (Otto, Lucia, and Max), their peanut-butter-and-marshmallow-fluff-loving great-aunt (best great-aunt ever!), and a five-legged, twenty-one-toed cat. (Otto is our favorite. He always wears that scarf. And his bond with the cat is oddly touching.)
Plus you, like the Hardscrabble children, will really want to know: Who is the Kneebone Boy?
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.
Most recent customer reviews
Great spookie adventure book for young readers especially in the month of October.Read more
Genre: MG Mystery/Adventure
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
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