The Kneebone Boy

The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter

Released September 14th, 2010.

I’m afraid I don’t know how to review this book without gushing, but I will do my best.  I’m hoping to see some recognition of it in this year’s awards.

The Hardscrabble family is shunned in their small town for several reasons.  Partly it’s because their mother disappeared suddenly and suspiciously.  Her body was never found.  Partly, it’s because all three of the children are a little odd and unusual.  Their father creates portraits of royals who have lost their throne, traveling around the world.  When he is gone, he leaves them with Mrs. Carnival, but then he makes a mistake and the three children are sent to stay with their aunt in London, who happens to be out of town herself.  So the three children are alone in London with nowhere to stay.  Luckily, they saw a letter from their great-aunt to their father giving vague hints about the truth about their mother.  So off they head to her home, which happens to be a miniature castle next to a very large castle with plenty of mystery and atmosphere.  Before they know it, they are off on an adventure that will change their lives.

Potter, author of Slob and the Olivia Kidney series, has outdone herself with this novel.  I tend to dislike books with a narrator voice that interjects, but here it is a perfect fit, since the text is written as if one of the characters is writing it.  It is less a narrator voice and more of one of the characters telling their story complete with asides.  It works beautifully here, adding to the wryness and intelligence of the book.

When the story reaches the castle folly, the setting really comes to life.  From the escapades on the beach and in the woods to the folly itself, details are shared and the entire world is suddenly bright with interest.  Potter writes these details into the story, weaving them together to create a world that is fascinating, childlike and still sinister.

The three children act like real brothers and sisters, which in a fantasy novel is a pleasure to see.  They are neither enemies or like friends, they are siblings through and through.  Their dynamic is ever-changing and very honestly written.  Potter also writes each of them with a distinct voice and perspective.  This strengthens the novel even more.  The children are delightfully but not distractingly odd.  They are the types of children we all wanted to be friends with when we were little, because we were just as strange too.

I have saved the best for last.  This is a book that reads like a fantasy but is realistic in the end and throughout.  Yes, there are adventures, there are skills, there are castles and there is a secret to be unraveled.  But in the end, it is real, sometimes achingly so.  It is also an ideal book to read aloud to a class, because the adventures will keep them mesmerized and there is plenty to discuss.

A must-buy for all libraries, this book is a winning read.  Fans of The Graveyard Book will enjoy it but so will children who look for adventure and reality.  It is a cross-genre book that fans of both will enjoy despite the fact it is definitely not really a fantasy.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.

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