Monday, January 9, 2017

The Loblolly boy by James Norcliffe

Firstly here is a confession I have bought this book home to read several times over the last few years but it never makes the top of my pile and I keep returning it unread.  Then I noticed something important on the cover.  An endorsement by Margaret Mahy.

"Children's literature is about to be enriched with a new classic"

I didn't even realise this was a New Zealand book.  I have mentioned that we have been culling our shelves.  We purchased this book in 2010 and I don't think it has been borrowed very often. Perhaps it needed to be culled but I was not sure so once again I bought this book home. Oddly when I visited a city book shop this week they had a copy of this book which was published in 2009 so now it was certainly time for me to actually read The Loblolly Boy.

While I don't entirely agree with Margaret Mahy The Loblolly boy is a engrossing book with a couple of heart stopping moments and an interesting supernatural feel.

Michael is living in a children's home.  Life is brutal.  Michael has no knowledge of his previous life. He is a loner and one evening he meets a boy in a remote corner of the garden down by the high wall - it is a  boy who has wings and can fly.  This is a loblolly boy and he contrives to swap lives with Michael.  There are glorious things about being a loblolly boy.  There are also issues :

"It had not occurred to me that being a loblolly boy meant I might never eat food again."
Michael has no shadow, can't feel hot or cold and is also invisible except to exceptional people. Such as Captain Bass.  He explains :
"In your travels ...  you will come across people who can see you and who can speak to you. We call such people Sensitives. ... some will be ... young, innocent and harmless; some will be like me; old and not really of this world ourselves. ... But then there are others who will ... be very dangerous. ... These are the collections; they'll see you as a rare and exotic species and they'll want to keep you in a cage."

Michael sees his future through a mysterious telescope. He finds new friends who are connected to him in a very surprising way.  Things seem to be going well until a collector discovers him. Michael is captured.

"It was only then the true ghastliness of my situation began to sink in. ... I looked around the walls again, at the dead butterflies skewered onto their neatly labelled backing cards. A single pin through the middle of each of these beautiful creatures. ... And this was going to happen to me."

You can listen the whole novel - performed for Radio NZ.

I wonder why James Norcliffe used the name Loblolly.  I have discovered :

  • Loblolly is a type of porridge or gruel served to the sick on warships in 1700s
  • Loblolly is also a type of small evergreen tree grown in the US
  • A loblolly boy was an assistant to a surgeon on a war ship

Winner, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, Junior Fiction Category, 2010

The quote from Margaret Mahy is just an extract the whole comment says :

'The children in The Loblolly Boy find themselves caught up in a remarkable chain of events. Through an encounter with the fantastic loblolly boy they can become fantastic themselves. This is a rich fantasy - alive with original twists, surprises and mysteries which I dare not reveal. Children's literature is about to be enriched with a new classic.' Margaret Mahy

There is a sequel and the US edition has a different cover and a different title.

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