100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson
Random House, 2007
Yes, this is another review of another first book in another juvenile book series. However, I can begin with fewer sighs and groans over the matter, because this is a creatively fun series into which you should be drug. N.D. Wilson is wonderfully imaginative and humorous. There are no “if you like Rowling, you’ll like…”; at least none that I saw; which is refreshing. 100 Cupboards is fantasy adventure more in tune with the other series about a wardrobe and magical places, The Chronicles of Narnia, but with shorter sentences.
The narrator is the 3rd omniscient sort (refreshing!), who primarily follows Henry but is useful in giving us glimpses and tidbits of other things having gone or are going on (the felines’ perspectives are amusing). We’re glad he follows Henry because Henry is brilliantly funny. The poor 12 year old boy has been horribly sheltered, and is generally inept, and worse, lacking in imagination.
One of my favorite passages:
Henry had never ridden in the back of a truck before, and he had always assumed it was illegal, though on the one trip his parents had taken him on, a tour of early Southwestern settlements, he had seen an entire truckload of field workers drive by. As he had been strapped into a car seat in the back of a Volvo at the time, he was extremely jealous. Only a few miles later, he had learned to his surprise that nine-year-old boys do not usually ride in car seats. A laughing school bus full of children taught him the lesson at the stoplight. (5)
The book moves more quickly than most firsts in a series, laying its foundations while providing plenty of action and comedy to keep the pace and page light.
The illustrations of place and people are more than sound. Wilson has a nice voice. However, the complicated endeavor of describing the compass-like knobs and the wall of cupboards is aided by a drawing at the front of the book—thank you. Wilson does well, but the drawing is massively helpful.
The cast is small at this point, but glorious. The book begins with the quaint and amusing, but as the momentum of the book picks up at the end, all of the characters lift off the page and the seriousness of the endeavor is evident. The ‘aw shucks’ sloughs off easier than the plaster that covered the cupboards. The fun promises to remain, but there is nice complicated project in this fantasy adventure. I love that tingling sensation. I hope Wilson can carry off his ambitions, and maintain his characters’ forms: he has some fantastic ones.
There is more than just entertainment in this book. I’m sure there is some cultural criticism to be found (or invented), but I am just basking in the entertainment portion of the day’s reading, for now.
Those concerned with boys not reading, introduce them to N.D. Wilson and his 100 Cupboards adventurer, Henry.
The suggested reading age is 8-12… I agree. And as Booklist points out, “The story is chilling, but the creepy quotient never exceeds the book’s target audience.”