Cohagan and The Lost Children

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Found this one browsing the Library shelves with the daughter.

Was caught by the title and the ominous looking building.

And then there were the 387 pairs of gloves.

The Lost Children by Carolyn Cohagan

Aladdin (Simon&Schuster) 2010.

313 pages (hardback).

Josephine Russing owns 387 pairs of gloves. She’s given a new pair every week by her father, a sullen man known best for his insistence that the citizens in town wear gloves at all times.

A world away, the children of Gulm have been taken. No one knows where they might be, except the mysterious and terrifying leader of the land: The Master. He rules with an iron fist, using two grotesque creatures to enforce his terrible reign.

When a peculiar boy named Fargus shows up on Josephine’s property and then disappears soon afterward, she follows him without a second thought and finds herself magically transported to Gulm.

After Fargus introduces her to his tough-as-nails friend Ida, the three of them set off on an adventure that will test everything Josephine has ever thought about the rules of the universe, leading to a revelation about the truth of the land of Gulm, and of Josephine’s own life back home.~publisher’s comments.

I was fairly certain The Lost Children, the debut novel by Carolyn Cohagan, was going to have the charming ridiculousness that I enjoy in a Children’s book—well, actually any book. I was right. To my continual delight there are plenty of strange quirks to keep me transported.

The narrative is third person, and limited based on whichever character point-of-view the story requires. A change in chapter marks the change in point-of-view. It isn’t difficult.  Josephine is the protagonist, but the other characters lift from the page via their own turns at story-telling. Cohagan carries the movement of the novel off smoothly.

Cohagan writes a fairly dark and perilous tale and I am thinking of putting her villains up in the top ten of the Most Creepy and Chillingly Invented Villains in Juvenile Literature; a high honor to be sure. The Master has me in mind of the Ironic Gentleman from Alex and the Ironic Gentleman by Adrienne Kress. The Brothers, the aforementioned “grotesque creatures,” are marvelous creations!

It is not just the villains are wonderfully realized, but the others in the cast are engaging as well. Most interesting is how the protagonist Josephine comes out as the least concrete character of them all; not saying she is flat by any means, just that the others are so much more the draw. Josephine is so much in the “becoming” stage that she is hard to anticipate—not a bad thing, just notable. Indeed, much of the story is about Josephine coming into herself, drawn away from the negligence of her own reality.

Josephine falls through a “crack,” a moment that reads like a bit of a Lucy Pevensie, Dorothy, Alice concoction. From here, there is no realization that family and friendship is important, we already know this from before falling through the “crack,” but Josephine gets to participate in the actualization of this idea. If anything, she understands that she has to be more assertive, that she needs to fight for what she needs and wants. This other place equips her in a sense, at the very least it rescues her.

I won’t read much more into themes or meanings. The adventure is entertaining, creepy and daring, and holds a nice turn at the end. One of those you don’t think about until the author shows you and you say, “of course. How nicely done, the way you sneaked up on me.”

***

Cohagan has a definite voice of her own that fans of Kress and Roald Dahl will appreciate; yet the dark edges to her tale is more Cornelia Funke or Kate DiCamillo. The Lost Children favors the darkling humor not at all and the baldly unpleasant realities of Tales and real life more. A sense of whimsy still pervades. And a sense of the theatrical. I was not surprised to read that Cohagan grew up in Theatre, and continues to.  By theatrical, I am inferring that guarantee of brilliant chapter endings and characters with presence (very expressive) and well-timed entrances and exits.

The Lost children is an engaging story that is wonderfully imaginative, decisively original. The 313 pages are light and easy to turn. And the voice begs a read-aloud, even if the reader is alone in a room. There is a lot of sadness but hope as well; a sense of healing in the relationships we do have, even as we linger over the ones lost. There is great deal of humor and a sweetness to balance out the less glittery elements of the story. The proposed audience is 8-12 and the novel seems to keep that younger end in mind. The Lost Children is a welcome book for those anticipating the slightly more perilous adventures found in works by Adrienne Kress, Francis Hardinge, Cornelia Funke… If past 8, still include this one in the to-be-read pile. I’m am adding it to the daughter’s already and was glad to have enjoyed it myself.

**********

note: some would consider this in relation to their child (if not themselves): a character’s parents are shot and killed, another’s father drowns himself out of grief, The Master’s mother’s death is quite hideously imagined. A part of a tale, a fact but not dwelt upon. I suppose there is a moment of torture, just remembered that. There are terrifying figures, Cohagan sets a fine mood of fear and impending doom. I would still uphold the as-young-as-eight age, but I am aware that some would distrust me for not adding a few “warnings.”

For boys and girls alike. There are plenty of things to delightfully gross a body out : snot, refuse-filled moat, and pigeon droppings to name a few.

If you like Alex and the Ironic Gentleman you will like this… and if you haven’t read Alex than you are missing out; it has a bit of an Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll) feel that even those who don’t actually care for Alice might still enjoy.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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