siren song of a book simply from title and cover art alone. This was my initial experience with The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter. Now, I have enjoyed Potter’s work in the past, so I wasn’t worried at all about experiencing the dreaded feeling of, “but I wanted to like this book!” that happens when readers fall for covers and titles sometimes. From the creepy dark haired young children staring out with their older blond brother wrapped in a scarf and holding a cat, to the bare feet hanging from the tree, I was simply intrigued.
Upon opening the arc, I was greeted with Chapter 1 followed by a bit of foreshadowing of the upcoming chapter: “In which we meet the Hardscrabbles, unearth a triceratops bone, and begin to like Lucia even more.” The Hardscrabbles are siblings Otto, Lucia and Max, who all live in the town of Little Tunks with their artist father Casper. Their mum is simply gone. She had been there, then she wasn’t. As in most small towns, the rumours began to spread…especially when Otto gives up talking aloud (he has invented a sort of sign language that he and Lucia use) and takes to wearing his mum’s scarf everywhere.
Casper is a peculiar sort of artist in that he paints portraits of royalty…exclusively exiled royalty. Casper says, "...there is something extraordinary about the face of a person who has fallen from greatness. They remind me of angels tossed out of heaven who are now struggling to manage the coin-operated washing machine at the Scrubbly-Bubbly Laundromat" (arc p.23) As you can imagine, exiled royals are not big on settling up their bills, so the Hardscrabbles don't live a luxurious existence by any means, and it means that their father is often traveling to wherever it is that the exiles are.
Usually when their dad goes away, the children stay with kooky Mrs. Carnival from down the way, but this time Casper tells them that they are to stay with their cousin Angela in London. Lucia especially is quite excited about this turn of events, and some time in London would be great if cousin Angela were actually at home. Stuck on their own in London, the kids come up with a plan that doesn't involve staying back in Little Tunks with Mrs. Carnival. Instead of trying to head home, the kids go on another adventure to find their Great Aunt Haddie in Snoring-by-the-Sea.
It turns out that not-so-old Haddie is renting a castle folly that is chock-full of its own secrets, including the entrance (a Tyrolean traverse), a parent castle (named the Kneebone Castle), and some pretty interesting rats.
I don’t want to go too deeply into the plot and get all spoiler-y. Suffice it to say there are some twists and turns that will make readers want to start flipping back through the text looking for clues. From the beginning where readers are told that the narrator is one of the Hardscrabbles, but not which one, to the very big reveal, Potter has woven together a plot that flows pretty seamlessly. The characters are all well developed (I grew particularly fond of Otto) and their personalities will draw readers in. This is the kind of book that captures readers at the beginning and keeps them in its thrall all the way through. Emily Reads captures the essence in her haiku review found here.