After checking back with the Library for months since this book was released, imagine my delight when I spotted it on the New Releases Shelf last week!
The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter
Feiwel & Friends, 2010
288 pages, hardcover.
Life in a small town can be pretty boring when everyone avoids you like the plague. But after their father unwittingly sends them to stay with an aunt who’s away on holiday, the Hardscrabble children take off on an adventure that begins in the seedy streets of London and ends in a peculiar sea village where, legend has it, a monstrous creature lives who is half-boy and half-animal…
In this wickedly dark, unusual, and compelling novel, Ellen Potter masterfully tells the tale of one deliciously strange family and a secret that changes everything. ~publisher’s comments.
You know that book that you wish you had written? Ellen Potter’s The Kneebone Boy is a book I wish I had written. Expect to see this novel on my “best reads of 2011 (juvenile fiction).”
Potter’s wit is enchanting. Her (narrator’s) impeccable sense of timing is compelling. The Kneebone Boy is storytelling at its finest. One book of which Neil Gaiman fans should take note. This novel has all the dark and whimsy and wit Gaiman fans already appreciate—as well as Roald Dahl fans for that matter.
The story is told (via third-person) by one of the three Hardscrabble children with the notable input of the two others.
“I can’t tell you which Hardscrabble I am—Otto, Lucia, or Max—because I’ve sworn on pain of torture not to. They said it’s because of the story belongs to all three of us, and I suppose they’re right, but it seems unfair since I’m doing all the work. No one can stop you from guessing, though.”
Natalya and I guessed the same, though we disagreed on our second guess, in case we were wrong with the first.
Everything locks in so nicely at the end. As it reads more of a strange adventure and less an obvious mystery, the memory for details isn’t constantly trying to flag and distract you from the story’s own impetus. The Reader arrives at the ending saying, “of course,” while really meaning, “oh!” I love the place the novel finds itself by the end, and I adored the journey getting there.
I tend to not care for books who would address the reader directly, the violation of that fourth wall and all… Usually the cleverness is a bit presumptuous and falls flat. In The Kneebone Boy, I thoroughly enjoyed the Narrator, that is sure to have made all the difference. I liked that we were on friendly terms, and that our sense of humor was enough the same. That the novel is juvenile fiction allows me to suspend my general distrust of stories that would be non-fiction-y (“I’m about to tell you a true story of when…”); my mind ever interrogating with the needling question of “how could you have recounted that?!” And then there’s how The Kneebone Boy artful uses the oft precariously wielded device of Being Self-Aware. It relays its struggle/effort of crafting a story that would mark change, entertain, and still be truthful/honest.
“The thing that’s been bothering me about this book so far is that we all seem very ordinary. A few times I tried to make us sound more dashing and heroic, but one of us (I won’t say who, but I bet you know) made me take those parts out because they weren’t factual. he said that we stared off ordinary and became remarkable because of everything that happened, and people need to know the truth.
The truth is a slippery fish,” I replied.
“You don’t even know what that means,” he said.
“You can bloody well stuff it,” I told him.
Things got ugly after that. (117)
The above excerpt is from “Chapter 9: In which the Hardscrabbles worry about the title of this book and other things.” The chapter headings are charming, “Chapter 11: In which there are no vampires or ghosts but you’ll like this chapter anyway;” “Chapter 16: In which something awful happens but I can’t say what it is;” “Chapter 17: I’m not telling you a single thing about this chapter because it will ruin everything.” Nice, huh?
The whole of The Kneebone Boy reeks of darkling charm, but not too much; just the right amount that has me very happy to have read this one and adding it to the “must own” list.
Ms. Dillon at “Welcome to My Tweendom” : Review : In which she writes, “The characters are all well developed (I grew particularly fond of Otto) and their personalities will draw readers in. This is the kind of book that captures readers at the beginning and keeps them in its thrall all the way through.”
I so very much agree. Potter uses vivid imagery while still propelling the Reader forward, no slogging through the sets or characterization here.
Melissa at “Book Nut” : Review : In which she writes, “It’s a dark little story, but with the right balance of dark and funny to make it truly enjoyable, and it’s fascinating how the mystery unravels at the end. Just about perfect, I would say.” And Melissa compares the experience (as other’s have) to a Lemony Snickett read.
I have yet to read a Lemony Snickett read….hmm.
The “Shelf Elf” : Review: In which she writes, “I’ll read anything Ellen Potter writes. For lots of reasons. First, I think she’s truly creative. She finds a way to take her stories in unexpected, fresh and bold directions. Second, she writes books that have a lovely blend of humor and heart, light and dark. Third, she pays attention to language. Her description is right on, never heavy or overdone.”
Natalya got to the read first and so upon a quick visit to the Library picked up 2 more of Ellen Potter’s books. Natalya devoured them, and can confidently agree with Shelf Elf’s observations. The observations are certainly dead on with The Kneebone Boy.