Friday, November 24, 2017

The Wonderling by Mira Bartok

He looked down at the small disk in his red furry hand.  The number was nearly worn off. Who would he have become, he wondered, had he remained Number Thirteen and not escaped? 'I have a real name,' he said under his breath. 'My name is Arthur."

Number Thirteen or Arthur, as he is now named, is a Groundling - part animal part human.  He has been sent to the Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures.  Take a minute to re-read these words wayward - the implication is that they are bad or in need of instruction and misbegotten - conceived by mistake.  Miss Carbunkle rules this school with an iron fist and the oppressed youngsters are forced to endure long hours 'education' followed by even longer hours of tedious factory work and desperate living conditions.  From the moment we meet Arthur, though, it seems he has a special destiny.

"He looked like a young fox but he stood upright like child and had no tail to speak of. His eyes were a lovely chestnut brown and flecked with gold. But there was something about them that gave one the sense that, although he had not been in this world very long, he carried within him some inexplicable sorrow."

"He'd reach beneath his pillow and pull out something soft and blue: a fragment of his baby blanket. ... Wrapped inside the scrap of blanket was a tiny gold key. ... the only things remaining from his very first home."

Arthur has some great skills one of which is acute hearing and he also longs to sing.  Perhaps this is part of his destiny.

"Silence was what was expected of him anyway, for it was the first and most important of Miss Carbunkle's Golden Rules. Noise, including conversation, was barely tolerated. ... Singing, humming, or making music of any kind whatsoever was also prohibited."

He is also very kind so when a tiny creature is being used as a plaything by three bullies who live in the Home he rescues her - a tiny bird called Trinket. She tells him wonderful stories of life outside and convinces Arthur they can escape and forge new lives.  Everything is new to Arthur.  Perhaps one day he will taste a pie.  When you read page 176 you will just gasp knowing how much he longs to taste this delicious treat.

"Pies are the best of all ... They are buttery, sweet, and filled with every kind of delicious thing imaginable.  But it's not the sort of thing one can actually describe. You just have to taste it."

"Except for the top of the birch tree and the sky, he had never seen the Outside, or rather he couldn't recall what it looked like, for he had been at Miss Carbunkle's Home for all of his remembered life."

"There was so much he wished to know.  And so much he realized he wish for.  ... he wanted to know if he still had a family somewhere. And he wanted to know why he had no name, and why he had one ear. And who had sung that beautiful song when he was but a wee pup, and why he could hear things others couldn't and why and why and why."

I made a list of some of the utterly delicious and special words used by Mira Bartok.  Here is a video where she talks about her book.  Here is a detailed question and answer session.

  • formidable
  • panoptic
  • capricious
  • peevish
  • cruciferous
  • demeanor
  • miscreants
  • pugent
  • bindle
  • malodourous
  • daguerreotypes
  • conundrum

I enjoy books filled with senses and because Arthur is a fox his sense of smell is strong and so many smells are graphically described in this book. As mentioned his sense of hearing is also amazing even though he only has one ear.  Both of these attributes are more than just useful as Arthur finds himself in confronting and extremely dangerous situations. I love these words "the air was his library, and it was rich with sound."

Food is scarce in the orphanage and on the streets of Lumentown which means I love this breakfast scene near the end of the book - being provided with food like this is so reassuring that Arthur is now heading for happiness.

"The table was set for breakfast: scrambled eggs, fried mushrooms, toast with butter and gooseberry jam, goat cheese tarts, sliced apples - and a little bowl of seeds for Trinket."

All the characters in this book have perfect names.  Arthur, Miss Carbunkle, Sneezweed, Mardox, Mr Bonegrubber, Wire, Trinket, Peevil, Quintus, Baby Tizer and Linette.

The Wonderling is a long book but you will be richly rewarded when you take the time to read it.  The first part just flew past for me as did the final chapters where good does triumph over evil as expected but perhaps with a twist or two that you will not anticipate.

Take time to read this review by 12 year old Jazzy.  I would follow The Wonderling with A Very Unusual Pursuit, The wolves of Willoughby Chase, The girl who drank the moon and Gregor the Overlander.

Captivating and with great potential as a read-aloud. Kirkus Star review

In stunning prose, set in three parts, we accompany the two friends on their journey out of the Home, and meet the most surprising characters.  Kids Book Review

Mira Bartók's world of The Wonderling is strikingly complex: sounds, tastes, colors are all described so vividly that the world practically sparkles  Shelf Awareness

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