"review" · juvenile lit · series


wingsThe Mysterious Mr. Spines: Wings by Jason Lethcoe

Cover art: Scott Altmann

Grosset & Dunlap (a Penguin young readers group), March 2009

(214 pages)

Interesting that I follow reading feathers with a title involving wings.  I picked it up because I had not yet seen it on the “new books” shelf and it has a fabulous cover. The reason it made it home was that the premise sounds fascinating. I like stories surrounding and creating/re-creating lore. The question Lethcoe asked that led to this story? He writes, in a letter published at the front: “What if a boy found out that he was the son of a fallen angel?”  In addition, there is the reference to a half-man, half-porcupine on the back of the book—awesome.

If you didn’t know, you need to know, this is the first book in a series. I realized after several pages in that there was no way the author was going to resolve so many of the issues opened with so few chapters left; unless he was a horrible story-ender.  I flipped through to the back and noticed the “coming soon” for the next book. (Of the 214 pages, 180 are dedicated to the story, the rest is the “appendix: glossary of terms”.) I began to wonder which of the possible little archs in the story he was going to resolve. I think he may have created one conflict and resolved it.  It is minor enough for me to have doubts; thus my use of “I think he may have.” Certainly it should be obvious—either he did or did not.  If I am forced to say, in a need to be more decisive in life—the conflict I question is more of an interesting aside, though somewhat revealing, a diversion. Perhaps I am just smarting from the fact I think the story could have had more pages of the proposed next story already attached.

Alright, so the book begins most everything and resolves nothing. Consider it, I suppose, an action prologue. It is an establishing shot. It is a story of some portion of a back-story which in turn only really serves to allude to a greater back-story.

My husband who loves me by disagreeing with me on principle shrugged and said, “It’s a story aimed at children, isn’t it?” I show him the size of the font, the spacing on the page. “Oh, Hmmm.” It does not have “early reader,” but I suppose neither does Junie B. (that would be the page layout I would compare this to, minus the illustrations). Yet, it is under the penguin division for young readers…

Could be I am impatient. The less pleasant form of impatient. A great day for me was when my then-8-year-old daughter read an incredible graphic novel (The Stonekeeper by Kibuishi), realized it was the first book in a series and that the second would not be published for months, she literally cried in frustration. I cannot say that this story holds the same anticipation, but the premise is good. Perhaps it is not fresh, but it has promise.

Am I impatient?

There is a mingling curiosity and cynicism toward the industry-side of these things.  My “books-to-purchase” list is amazingly long, so naturally I use the library to feed my book addictions. However, not everyone does. And there is the library’s purchase. And a good story, everyone should own one, the library possibly five more.  $6.99 for the little paperback book I am looking at. I am going to pursue this interest further. What is the cost per length? per known author? per series etc.?

Will they collect the series into a “collection” and from then on be considered The Complete and Collected Story of The Mysterious Mr. Spines? I mean something beyond the box set. Perhaps it is hedging the risk of popularity, or rather failure. Even so, they should be stronger out of the gate–so I say optimistically; optimistic that the readers are discerning, even at an early age.  Really, I would hate for this set of books to the negative standard by which others are measured.

Mr. Spines is magical fantasy: worse, it explores the realm of the afterlife, so, a warning to that crowd. If yours is an avid reader, maybe wait for the second before starting into the first: keep an eye out for it should be published relatively soon. Saw the cover art on Lethcoe’s blog which is more Scott Altmann, and it looks beautiful.

There is plenty of suggestion for 10 and up, the heading into middle-school crowd. I would not disagree, which adds to the argument as to why was the book so short? I am sure to recover from this, damn the appropriately quick pacing of the book.

There are plenty of interesting characters to delve into, fascinating realms to discover. Lethcoe is constructing his logic and introducing quite a bit right away: the appendix, both revealing and useful, is a wise inclusion.

There may be a bit impatience to lay the work, the world, and get into the story assailing the author’s imagination; the place to which he has to bring us. The pacing of the story feels appropriate to the action, but the move sacrifices setting and characterization. The setting and character construction meet all the requirements for relaying a story, however they lack certain poetry. Like the dialogue between characters they are quick, and the precision leaves nothing to linger; it is neither dull nor sharp, but glancing.

The premise, the imagination, and the hopeful promise of Lethcoe’s pen is enough to have me return for the second book; meanwhile I am left to wonder how Lethcoe or the publisher got away with getting this incomplete first work bound and on the shelves.

~leslie d.

(written June 2009)