Kladstrup - Book Reviews

***** - Excellent
**** - Good
*** - Okay
** - Bad
* - Terrible
+ - Half-star

The Book of Story Beginnings
Kristin Kladstrup
Candlewick Press
Fiction, YA Fantasy

DESCRIPTION: In 1914, Oscar Martin longs to be a writer, but his father, an Iowa farmer, has made his opinion clear: the fourteen-year-old daydreamer is to get his head out of the clouds and back into the real world, where he will become a farmer and work his father's land until his own children inherit it from him. In the attic, Oscar stumbles across a writing book, mostly blank, entitled The Book of Story Beginnings. Ignoring the cryptic warning on the first page, he starts writing the story of a farm boy who dreams of adventure, and finds a magical ocean outside his door... a story beginning that somehow becomes true. Unable to resist, he jumps into a rowboat on the shore of the mysterious, impossible ocean, and vanishes.
In modern times, Lucy Martin's father just lost his city job as a chemistry teacher at the start of summer break. By strange coincidence, Lucy's Aunt Lavonne, an eccentric woman who spent her life studying magic and alchemy after witnessing her older brother Oscar's unusual disappearance (not that anyone believed her - surely he just ran away from home and had an accident), recently passed away and left the family house in Iowa to him. Not long after coming to the Brick, as the old farmhouse is locally known, Lucy begins investigating Oscar's long-ago disappearance and stumbles across his writing book. Like Oscar, she ignores the warning and begins writing a story of her own, a story in which her father is a magician. This leads to unintentionally disastrous consequences when he creates a transforming potion that not only turns himself into a crow but turns a peculiar local barn cat into Oscar! Lucy and Oscar discover the hard way that a story, once begun, finds its own way of playing out to the end, and it cares little about what happens to the people involved along the way.

REVIEW: This is a fairly fun story that moves fast but has some thought behind it, especially as Oscar deals with the loss of his family and era - his world, essentially - while he was stuck in a story of his own making. Overall, it plays a bit like a lesser version of Cornelia Funke's Inkheart, or rather its sequel Inkspell, in which an author winds up in the middle of the world he created and slowly begins to understand that it has a life of its own far beyond his control. Lucy and Oscar, too, realize too late that beginning a story, especially in a magical writing book, means that they must follow it through to the end, and that life in the middle of a story often isn't nearly so pleasant as it seems to the casual reader. The stories they wander through have an exaggerated, fairy-tale quality to them, a quality which both characters recognize but can do little about, having begun their stories as fairy-tale stories. By the end, some of the logic feels stretched a bit too thin, costing it a point in the ratings. Overall, I enjoyed it.

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