Friday, May 21, 2010

The Hidden Boy

"When Bea Flint opened the front door, just a few days before her little brother imploded, she found a stocky man in a sea captain's uniform waiting on the doormat. "

I am a sucker for a good opening line; that one starts things off with a nice off the wall touch. The Hidden Boy, by Jon Berkeley, just gets weirder, but in a unique, inspired sort of way.

Imploding brothers aside, Bea and her family are not your average bunch. Her mother is a tattoo artist, her father is a mountain who used to ride with a motorcycle gang. And then there's Clockwork Gaby, who needs to be wound every day to keep functioning. No one know where she came from: she was simply there when they moved into the apartment. Granny Delphine stares at everyone through her owlish spectacles, which Bea suspects show more than they ought. Add to this the semi-kidnapped neighbor's daughter, several people with some sort of psychic powers, a presumed-dead leader, a missing parrot, and a clan of menacing, dough-faced burglars and you have a recipe for a highly original, can't-tell-where-it's-going-next sort of book.

When Theo disappears on the "crossing" to Bell Hoot, only Bea can hear his voice, first through the "Squeak Jar" and then in her dreams. Bea, it turns out, may be the only one who can find Theo and bring him home. This turns out to be very complicated indeed, especially since someone sinister is invading her dreams, searching just like Bea for the Hidden Boy, who may or may not be Theo.

I loved that this book was so different than the average run of kids' fantasy books. That the fantasy is rooted in the real world simply added to the mystery. I especially loved the Gummint (for which, read: government) men and their shadowy persecution of Mumbo Jumbo, the powers of observation and intuition that Granny Delphine has studied for years. The book plays with language; everything from the anagrams that Phoebe (or Blue Hope) fiddles with (even Bell Hoot turns out to be an anagram), to the descriptions of the countryside and the strange people Bea and her family are encountering.

A good one for middle school or junior high, possibly a little younger as well if your child likes fantasy.

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