A boy's spectacular and mystifying into-thin-air disappearance
from a sealed chamber high above London launches this determined and thoughtful
page-turner for middle-grade readers.
Deliberate and logical twelve year old Ted, a boy with Asperger's Syndrome, narrates this fast-paced mystery. Ted loves order (he wears his school uniform even on weekends) and is a vigilant recorder of events, big and small: He notes the number of cereal bits he eats at breakfast, counts the minutes his cousin spends aloft in the viewing capsule, and deciphers facial expressions by matching them to rote arrangements of eyebrows and lips he's memorized. Ted's mind is a place where each click of the clock is palpable and nature is a beautiful machine.
It's people that perplex Ted: Their emotions are inexplicable and their habit of talking in metaphors causes grotesque and nonsensical visual images to appear inside his head. Ted's passion for meteorology affords him a rational vocabulary for describing, understanding and, when necessary, withstanding feeling: During the family crisis of his cousin's disappearance, Ted describes the panicked people around him as resembling clouds that suddenly darken or thundering storms.
The novel is most powerful when Ted's mostly theoretical understanding of the world collides with the real: Once he's witnessed the impossible evaporation of his cousin into the air above London, Ted can't turn away from the dangerous, the uncomfortable or the volatile: He experiences roaring motorcycles, frightening subways, phone calls, dissimulation, death, and the very real possibility of evil. Fastidious and isolated, Ted is a weatherman who gets caught in a terrible downpour without his umbrella: Rain means one thing, and wet another.
While the mysterious disappearance is intriguing, what Ted must do to understand it is truly exciting: To discover how and why his cousin vanished from a sealed pod, Ted breaches the closed chamber of his psyche and invites the world and the reader in.
Useful to know: Siobhan, an Irish form of Jean, is pronounced shi-VORN.
*The tonnes referred to in the sidebar are metric tons, equivalent to 1,000 kg (2,205 lbs), which is different to the ton in the USA which usually refers to a "short ton" of 2000 lbs (about 907 kg). The difference is because the UK uses the metric system, whereas the USA stands with Liberia and Burma/Myanmar as the only countries not to have officially moved to the metric system.
This review was originally published in February 2008, and has been updated for the May 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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