When I started Ellen Potter’s latest,The Kneeboy Boy, I felt an immediate kinship to the much beloved Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events. There’s a witty, dark absurdity to the narrator (one of the Hardscrabble children, but you have to guess which), a quirky, likeable trio of siblings, and a mystery full of kooky, slightly off-center characters that combine into an enjoyable and engaging read.
The three Hardscrabble siblings: shy, mute Otto, take-charge Lucia, and clever Max, are the misfits in the their small English town. Their lives were turned upside down years ago when their mother disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Ever since, the whole town has shunned them, although they much prefer their own company anyway. When their flighty artist father suddenly sends the children to London, Lucia’s wish for an adventure comes true with a gusto that surprises all three of them. The relative they’re supposed to stay with is out of town, so the siblings find themselves alone on the streets of Camden, without money and quickly beset by danger. Deciding to follow a clue about their missing mother’s fate, they take a train to the tiny village of Snoring-by-the-Sea where they track down a bizarre woman whom they assume to be their mother’s aunt, find themselves staying in a playhouse castle on the grounds of an eerie real life castle, and soon caught up in the mystery of a half-human boy who lurks in the woods and has haunted the village for generations.
As Otto, Lucia and Max work to solve the mystery of the Kneebone Boy, they eventually unravel the loss at the center of their own family mystery. Potter fills her mystery with humor and surprises, but also with heartbreak and a sense of realism about the pains of growing up and losing those we love.
- Posted by Cori