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Showing 1-10 of 74 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 145 reviews
on April 26, 2016
I found this to be an absolutely delightful book. Writing about what goes through the mind of a child is a difficult task without making them simply appear to be miniature adults. Kids see a very different world that adults do and T.S. inhabits a world that few adults have ever seen. It is that which makes this book special. The characters were vivid enough that I could see them as I read through it and Larsen’s use of margin notes really helped to paint an in-depth portrait of T.S..
If you are contemplating purchasing this book, watch the film first. I think you will enjoy both of them. I read the book first and felt that the film was a letdown.
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on March 1, 2017
I was first attracted to this book many years ago by the cover and the fact that it contains marginalia throughout. It's the story of a 12 year old boy who wins a prestigious award from the Smithsonian Institution and the crazy journey he takes to get the there. In the previous year his younger brother accidentally shot and killed himself and T.S.'s entire remaining family tries unsuccessfully to deal with their grief and each other. It's a great story that I've read about five times. There is one passage in the book that always keeps up nights for about a week thinking about it and I wish there was a way to contact the author and ask him what the answer was to the question, regarding Dr. Clair's letter to T.S.

There's a movie out by the same title which was very good. It's a slightly different story, but still just as good as the book. I recommend both of them.
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on September 8, 2012
There's something (good) to be said for a novel that tries to be somewhat experimental. I mean, even if it doesn't end up working quite right, I'm always at least willing to tip my hat to the writer for giving it a try.

This novel falls into that category -- while overall, I think I'd describe it as a bit of a failure, I was intrigued by what Larsen was doing (more on that in a sec), thought it was well-written, and really found myself bonding with the main character, a 12 year-old boy named Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet.

Now for the bad news. This novel is about that boy, who mostly just goes by T.S. and who is obsessed with mapping, graphing, charting, and sketching all the things around him. He draws and intricately annotates everything from the city sewer system to the way his sister shucks corn -- there is nothing too complex or too simple to be mapped out by T.S. It's his way, we soon realize, of creating order in a world that, for him, feels far too random, chaotic, and unpredictable.

As the story begins, a university friend of T.S.'s entomologist mother has submitted several of T.S.'s drawings for an award at the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian has been buying Spivet's work for years, not realizing he's only 12 years old. And when he wins this prestigious award, they call him immediately, asking that he come to Washington, D.C. to accept in person and give a lecture.

At first, T.S. is pretty "No way in HELL" about the whole idea. After all, that would blow his cover -- they'd know he was twelve and probably stop working with him altogether. But when his mother makes him angry one night, he decides enough is enough -- home sucks anyway. He packs up his stuff (including all his cartography tools and "oodles of underwear," plus snacks) and hits the road, stealing, at the very last minute, what he thinks is the notebook containing his mother's life work: scientific details about a new beetle she's discovered.

T.S., having done some mapping in the past about hobo signs, decides his best option for getting across the country is riding the rails. He lucks out in boarding the perfect train for the East -- a train carrying brand new Winnebagos, one of which he stakes out as his home for the ride.

And here's where the story kind of spiraled from wonderful to less so. While riding the train, Spivet finally cracks open his mother's notebook and finds inside a biography she's been writing about his great-grandmother, who was a science geek and artist too. As it turns out, his mother's life work has nothing to do with beetles -- she's been trying to write the story of this woman who had so impressed and inspired her, and it's clear from what she's written that she's hoping T.S. will provide the illustrations, something that both heartens him (his mother does value him!) and makes him terrifically sad (and he's just run away from her!).

When the story in this novel is about T.S. and his journey (physical and emotional), the story is brilliant. His explorations of himself, his family, his work, and the world around him are sharp, energetic, incredible, unique. Getting to know T.S. is a joy -- it's pure joy, plain and simple.

The problem is, the story about his great-grandmother, which ends up consuming a huge chunk of the novel, is both commonplace and out of place. By the middle of the book, which is much, much too long, I started to skim all the sections related to that element, and if I had it to do over, I would likely skip that whole tale completely and not, in fact, feel like I'd missed out on anything too terribly important.

The end of this novel is also extraordinarily weak -- so much so, in fact, that I was stunned it had been written by the same guy. I had to wonder if maybe Larsen had gotten to the end of his own book and gotten bored with it himself. "Oh whatever," he might've said around page 400. "Let's wrap this thing up already." Not a good sign, sir.

The "experimental" part of this novel I mentioned above deals with the marginalia. The margins are packed full of Spivet's art -- his scientific drawings, maps, charts, and heartache (take a close look at anything that has to do with his older, beloved brother, for example, whose death T.S. blames himself for).

While I initially loved this feature -- it's what made me pick this book up in the first place, in fact -- I ended up having the same problem with it that I had with the footnotes in Mark Danielewski's HOUSE OF LEAVES: they became a distraction instead of an enhancement. You can't really skip reading them because they're telling part of the story (or, in the infuriating case of HOUSE OF LEAVES, an entire secondary companion story). But at the same time, reading all the margin notes PLUS the text itself becomes an overwhelming task.

Fewer of these annotations would've greatly strengthened the novel overall and enhanced the marginalia itself. It would've made coming across one of T.S.'s drawings a treat instead of a slog. If only a good editor had gotten their hands on this one, I think it could've been absolutely brilliant. Instead, I'll just say something (good) about it as an experiment in fiction, and hope that Larsen's next book takes it all one step further. Or one step back. Or whatever it is I'm trying to say. You get my drift.

Overall, I'd say it's well worth your time. But when the urge hits to start skimming sections, roll with it.
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on March 7, 2016
Very well written and fascinating design too. Really enjoyed working through the novel (yes, it's not a straight read if you're going to find all the information in the side matter) and give it 5 stars even though I found the ending to be a bit abrupt and anticlimactic after the meticulous story development.
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on June 5, 2017
Interesting approach to storytelling, lots of great 'mapping' graphics.... Not cartographic so much, but illustrative of human experience.... Violence isn't graphic. The 'novella within a story' didn't really engage me that well.
Suitable for older teens through adults ( young teens might not appreciate themes)...
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on July 29, 2014
This is the author's first book, and I certainly hope he is not a "one-hit wonder". The novel is about a very nerdy, endearing boy with an unusually strong scientific curiosity and an obsession to "map" out everything he experiences in his young life. It is about his somewhat quirky family and a tragedy in their past, and his adventurous attempt to fill the out-sized expectations of him by others. It is a book like no other, and don't wait for it to come out in ebook format, because you will never be reading it on your kindle.

The author tells his tale cleverly through a scientific lens. T.S. sees his world through small morsels of observable experiences in ordinary life. These experiences he records in drawings and notations with scientific detachment. They are the kinds of observations that anyone could make and annotate, and the annotations could lead interested people to wonder why. Yet the book is far from dry, and the characters are well-developed, and just quirky enough not to be predictable. I was captivated and fascinated from page one. My one caveat is that I think he could have fleshed out the ending a bit more. But it is a small caveat indeed. I believe this is the best book I have read this year.
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on October 6, 2010
The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is a joy to read. The novel's layout is unlike anything I have ever seen, with unconventional footnotes decorating the margins and telling stories of their own, the novel is truly unique. The novel is told through the eyes of an adolescent genius who obsesses over cartography. Yet, Spivet acknowledges in the novel "I would be the first to admit that I was still a child in more than a few facets" (32).

The novel is most appropriate to use in a classroom setting if it was introduced to an advanced placement English class. The novel is written through the perspective of a young adult but in no way reflects a young adult novel. It is also quite lengthy (374 pages) and the notations found in the margins require close reading. However, the novel does cover some practical themes for today's youth. It reflects parent/child/sibling relationships, a mature mind trapped in a young boy's body, death of a sibling, and much more.
I particularly thought the constant references to mapping made it teachable. Spivet explains, "A novel is a tricky thing to map. Maybe you just need to be an adult in order to perform this high-wire act of believing and not-believing at the same time" (37).

This could be a perfect way to spark class discussion and talk about how to go about navigating through novels and the power they possess that allows one to enter the realm of make believe. Perhaps if I taught this book I would have students become cartographers and start charting some of their own experiences in reading literature, everyday life and how they see the world. Spivet's character can surely be inspirational to young and old readers alike.
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on March 22, 2015
This was a wonderful story. I loved this book. It seems a bit advanced for a child's book but the story is great. I watched the movie trailer after reading this book and just from viewing the trailer I could see that there were some obvious changes from the book. I decided not to see the movie because I loved the story in the book so much I didn't want to have the movie version in my head. The boy in this book reminds me of the boy from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Both have those analytical minds that are so quirky and different. I bought this as a used book and it was in excellent condition and arrived right on time. I will now give this book to my 12 year old niece who is a voracious reader, which is what I had planned when I bought it.
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on October 5, 2010
I'll be perfectly honest: The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen was a difficult novel to begin. The illustrations and column addendums were a pain to take breaks for because they are dense and interrupt the flow of the story. The story took a while to get going; there was a considerable amount of heming and hawing on behalf of the narrator. In Part One, I found myself thinking, 'only three hundred and fifty more pages...only three hundred more pages...' at the end of every chapter. T.S. Spivet's quirkiness and technical jargon distract from the story and add complexity that needed not be there. At least that's how it seemed in Part One.

Once the action started, the endearing story of a twelve year old boy who--essentially--runs away from home to escape his brother's death is engaging, thrilling, and is the modern adventure story that we've all been waiting for. Tecumseh Spivet, a prodigy cartographer and the son of a rancher and female scientist, makes a journey from Montana to Washington, D.C., primarily by 'hobo-ing' and hitchiking. His journey to D.C. starts after he receives a call from the Smithsonian, congratulating him for winning their prestigious Baird Award and inviting him to give a speech at an elaborate banquet. Embarrassed for his parents' pride, he leaves early in the morning to begin his journey, with a handful of snacks and all of his cartography equipment. His encounters all along his adventure are unbelievable and are translated to the reader through the scope of a 12-year old boy, using science and his limited experience on a ranch in the Mid-West to explain away the workings of the world.

By the end of the novel, I had become a believer in mapping and had developed a fondness for the boy wonder. Suddenly, around the middle of Part 2, I eagerly looked forward to the exquisite maps and side notes T.S. Includes for our enjoyment and clarification. As we move along with him on his journey, he becomes less and less of a prodigy and more of a scared, but incredible, boy, making his way cross country to accept a prestigious award from the Smithsonian, just because it seemed like a good idea. I heartily recommend this book to readers looking for a good adventure story.

Being a pre-service English teacher, I could not help but think about whether this book would be teachable or not. While it could fall under the category of "Young Adult" for its youthful protagonist, I don't know if I would consider it a possibility, or even an enjoyment, for most students in high schools. The language is very complex at times and highly technical. While this is surely a linguistic device to illustrate the emotional barriers of the main character, I think it may turn some students off to the story. If I were to teach it, I would give it to older students in eleventh or twelfth grade and allot a great deal of time to it for classroom discussion. Many of the terminology Larsen introduces--like that of cartography, entomology, topography, and psychology--would be problematic for some average level readers, let alone for below average readers.

Indeed, the first hundred pages does set up an important background and character sketch of all major players, but I feel that it would move too slowly for students to really, truly enjoy. They may end up hating the book early on and then not make it through the important and valid values and themes that the book discusses later on. At 375 pages, it is quite long, but so are many great classics. While length does induce complaining, I don't believe students would be more opposed to reading this than, say, Crime and Punishment or Gone with the Wind.

Honestly, I would first put this on a summer reading list and gauge student reaction before introducing it into the classroom. Ways of reading are changing, and students of the present and future may respond better to a more technical lingo, replete with diagrams and illustrations as a supplement.

Overall, after becoming more acquainted with T.S Spivet's voice, I found this to be a delightful read and I think many mature readers would enjoy it.
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on July 10, 2009
The unusual format of this novel (almost square) gets your attention but when you open it and begin to read it, the REASON for the format KEEPS your attention. That reason is that the w-i-d-e margins allow room for many of the main character's maps, drawings and diagrams that accompany his telling of his story.

The main character is 12-year-old Tecumseh Sparrow (T. S.) Spivet who is an obsessive map maker of all things around him. These include mundane and expected things such as the layout his room, river drainage patterns, etc. but also other wide-ranging subjects like facial expressions of others, insect antennae, diagrams of noise patterns and other things you'd never think of.

Some of his work has been submitted to the Smithsonian by a teacher friend of his and T. S. is selected to receive a prestigious award from them. His parents are unaware of this and he sneaks off on a cross-country trek to D.C. to receive the award.

The story of his trip and his time in D.C. take up about 1/2 of the book with the other part setting the stage by allowing us to get to know him, his family and getting a glimpse into his life on a Montana ranch where he really does not fit.

This is a very interesting read, made all the more so by all of the diagrams, maps and explanatory notes added in the margins by T. S.

The only thing keeping me from giving this 5 stars is that the story seems to wind up too easily. After all of the detailed story telling leading up to T. S.'s time at the Smithsonian it just seemed to me that the end of the story lacked the detail and attention that the rest of the book was blessed with.

I will watch for other books by Reif Larsen and just hope they're as good as this one.

Get it. Read it. Enjoy it.
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