Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Booklog: The Boy in the Basement, Finding Lubchenko, The Improbable Cat

The Boy in the Basement
, by Susan Shaw

Charlie lives in the basement, because Charlie was bad. Father has decreed that Charlie must stay in the basement, and so Charlie does. At night, when Father is asleep, Charlie sneaks upstairs and has some bread and peanut butter and water from the tap, and he opens the back door to pee. One night, Charlie accidentally locks himself out, and confused and delirious, he wanders until somebody finds him and takes him to the hospital. There, Charlie struggles with hallucinations, terrors and illness, and when he recovers, he is placed in a loving foster home. But while Charlie may have physically recovered from his illness, mentally and emotionally, he has a long way to go.

This is a powerful and sometimes horrifying story of extreme child abuse and recovery. Charlie's abusive father looms as a powerful and terrifying figure in Charlie's mind. Father has effectively cut Charlie off from the world, telling him that if he ever went outside, he would be ruined, and so Charlie literally knows nothing of the world. Large outdoor spaces frighten him, and he has never heard of Christmas, Halloween, soccer, or love. While parts of this book are difficult to read, Charlie's recovery and slow reintroduction to the world is inspiring.


Finding Lubchenko, by Michael Simmons

Evan Macalister describes himself as a "poor kid living in wealth and comfort." His dad, Evan Macalister Sr, the millionaire owner of a succesful pharmaceutical company, believes (a)that hardship builds character, and (b)that his son is good for nothing. Evan must work as an office aide at his dad's company to make pocket money to buy stuff like tshirts and sneakers, let alone movies and pizza. And so Evan does what any other resourceful, up-to-no-good teenager would do: he steals office supplies - dvd burners, printers, and laptops - from the company and sells them on ebay. Life is good - his dad is fingered for murder and bioterrorism. And the only evidence that could exonerate him is on a laptop that Evan has stolen. Evan is faced with a choice: turn in the laptop and face his father's ire (and maybe go to jail), or solve the mystery himself. And so Evan and his two best friends jet off to Paris to search for a man named Lubchenko, who may hold the key to proving his father's innocence.

Someone on Amazon called this "Ferris Bueller Goes to Paris," and that's a pretty apt description. Evan is irreverant and up to no good, but also immensely likeable. Even as he can't stand his rigid, Scottish Lutheran father, he can't let him get fingered for a crime he knows he didn't commit. Evan is a ridiculous amount of fun, and so is this novel. He drags his best friends - and us - on a madcap, ridiculous adventure across Paris - and of course, against all odds, succeeds in saving the day. This is a fun, fast-paced read. It's not too deep or too serious, but it isn't meant to be. How can anyone resist Ferris Bueller meets James Bond? I am very excited to read the sequal.


The Improbable Cat, by Allan Ahlberg

It was a quiet summer night when the little grey kitten came limping into David's backyard, miawing pitifully. His family instantly fell in love with the kitten and welcomed it into their home. David, allergic to cats and loyal to his dog, stayed far away from the cat, and was therefore the only one to notice when his family started to act suspiciously strange. At the beginning, they only started to be spacey and irritable, but then it got worse. His mother would go shopping and only bring home large amounts of expensive fish and meat - for the cat. His father took to smoking again. His sister, once lively, would only sit on the couch, stroke the cat, and watch game shows. And that wasn't all. The cat was growing at an enourmous rate, far quicker than a normal kitten should. When David returns from a camping trip, he finds his house in shambles, his father drunk, and the cat - has turned into something enourmous and uncatlike. It will take all of David's skill and courage to figure out how to oust the cat and save his family.

This very short book reads like a ghost story told around the campfire. It is atmospheric and genuinely scary, and pulls you in and makes you turn the pages faster and faster, eager to find out what the cat is, and what David can possibly do to save his family. But the end is weak. Like many ghost stories, it doesn't tie everything up - indeed, it clearly admits that sometimes you never really know what happened and how, just that it happened. But I still wanted to know! I wanted to know what the cat was, and what it wanted, and what David's father meant when he said "Not much longer now, don't spoil things." I wanted to know!

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