From the book jacket: Michael Gruber has
created a world that is at once deceptively familiar and
stunningly original, a world of cruelty, beauty, legend, truth,
and above all, wonder. Readers will delight in the author's
ingenious retelling of classic fairy tales and will marvel at the
stunning new tale of a boy raised by a witch, a cat, a bear, and a
Comment: I was particularly keen to read Gruber's book with the children (then aged 9 and 11) because the the media reviews were so divergent. For example, Booklist gave it a starred review saying "from the hypnotic mask on the cover to its perfect fairy-tale ending, this astonishing fantasy compels readers onward" and the Guardian (UK) described it as "a brilliantly woven plot for ages 12-16". However, Publishers Weekly felt that "the languorous pace and muddled message will likely make it off-putting to teens", and Kirkus thought the main character to be "one of the least sympathetic characters readers will ever meet in literature" - which isn't a criticism per se, but equally will not have people rushing out to buy a copy!
We listened to The Witch's Boy as an 8 hour audio book read beautifully by Denis O'Hare. Undoubtedly a good reader can turn literary straw into gold, so part of our opinion is probably colored by the exceptional reading. However, even without this I believe we would have been hooked by this elegantly plotted story that can be understood at many levels, and thus can be enjoyed by many ages - in fact, I imagine that a fair number of teenagers will see a bit of themselves in Lump, and perhaps that's not such a bad thing!
I wholeheartedly recommend The Witch's Boy for young teens and also, as we discovered, it's an excellent choice for family car journeys - most audio books get passed on but we'll be keeping this one to listen to again.
This review was originally published in June 2005, and has been updated for the May 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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