The Hardscrabbles of the English town of Little Tunks--silent Otto, the adventure-seeking Lucia and whip-smart Max--have become accustomed to their shy, rumpled father's absences since their mother's suspicious disappearance. (" 'She's dead,' Lucia said. 'She's gone missing,' said Max.") On one such occasion, Mr. Hardscrabble's miscommunication with a London relative leaves the trio perilously alone in the big city. Barely escaping the clutches of an angry tattooed man, they manage to track down their great aunt Haddie Piggit, a youngish, eccentric American with a penchant for Pixy Stix who lives in a child-sized version of the adjacent Kneebone Castle in Snoring-by-the-Sea. Could she be their mother? Does Otto, the oldest at 13, know and not say? Does the legendary, tower-bound Kneebone Boy really have bat ears? Narrated quite personably by one of the Hardscrabbles who refuses to be identified but is obvious, the story is fresh, funny and surprising. The sibling dynamics--alternately testy and touching--are believable, as are the wonderfully odd characters from the hulking taxidermist Saint George to the ethereal Sultan of Juwi. A quirky charmer. (Fiction. 11 & up)Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
With a dark, witty absurdity suggestive of Lemony Snicket, Potter (the Olivia Kidney books) draws readers into this compelling mystery-adventure about a missing mother. "worn on pain of torture" not to reveal which of the quirky Hardscrabble children he or she is, the narrator writes in third-person with wry first-person asides: "Note to reader: if you ever want your life to turn topsy-turvy, say, â€˜Things will go on just as they always--' Oops, I almost said it." Things certainly do go awry for Otto (mute, after his mother's disappearance), take-charge Lucia, and clever Max, when their father sends them to stay with an aunt who's on vacation. Danger follows them to the village of Snoring-by-the-Sea, home to an eccentric great-aunt, an eerie castle, a half-human boy held prisoner--and perhaps the answer to what happened to their mother. Potter's voice is distinguished by sharp, humorous, and poignant observations: " was so solemn. So sad. Was he always like that and she had never noticed?" Often laugh-out-loud funny, this tale quietly solves a deeper mystery: how to heal the hearts of this immensely likable trio. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
Gr 6-8--Otto, Lucia, and Max are the Hardscrabble children, and one of them is the unidentified narrator. Otto, the oldest, hasn't spoken out loud since he was eight, when the children's mother vanished. Their father, Casper Hardscrabble, paints portraits of royal families, returning with stories of their adventures to tell his children. When he sends them to London to stay with his cousin, who turns out to be away on holiday, they make their way to their great-aunt Haddie, who lives in a life-size playhouse castle behind a forbiddingly real castle, once owned by the Kneebone family. From their great-aunt and others, the Hardscrabbles learn about the Kneebone boy, locked away in a tower in the castle because of some unnamed deformity, and decide that they must rescue him. Instead, their mission leads to the resolution of their own family mystery. This odd book doesn't know if it wants to be an "Unfortunate Events" clone or a straightforward mystery. It's certainly not a fantasy, as the narrator takes pains to make clear that anything magical in the book only appears to be magical and has a rational, logical explanation. That makes sense with the rational, logical explanation presented for Tess Hardscrabble's disappearance, which is actually very sad and distressing. Ultimately, there is little to care about here; not the characters, the plot, or the resolution, all of which makes The Kneebone Boy a low-priority purchase.--Tim Wadham, St. Louis County Library, MO[Page 161]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.