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|Paperback, Nov 3 2003||
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Grade 7 Up-It's 1962, and 12-year-old Bobby and his mom leave their small, seaside village in the north of England for a day trip to Newcastle. There, Bobby is staggered by his encounter with Mr. McNulty. This odd little man is his own wandering sideshow; he pierces his cheeks with a dagger, escapes from shackles, and breathes fire in exchange for coins. At home, Dad recognizes McNulty as a fellow veteran of World War II, who came home from Burma with his brain boiled by "too much war, too much heat, too many magic men." Meanwhile, Bobby enrolls at the prestigious Sacred Heart school with his new, upper-crust neighbor, Daniel. Both quickly suffer at the hands of Mr. Todd, a masochistic teacher. As Daniel plots revenge, Bobby worries that his father's increasingly frail health might prove fatal. Changing relationships with friends Ailsa and Joseph also bear heavily on Bobby, but overhanging everything is the Cuban missile crisis. During the climactic night as the disparate characters, including McNulty, gather at a bonfire on the beach, Bobby's fear that the flash of nuclear annihilation is as likely as dawn fulfills Almond's firm evocation of this particular time and place. The protagonist's ferocious love for his family, community, and life itself amply reward readers able to appreciate the uncompromising British idiom. The author's trademark themes-courage in resisting evil; the importance of love among friends and family, especially in the face of crisis; suffering and death amidst peace and beauty; and the fragility of life-are here in full, and resonate long after the last page is turned.
Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Gr. 6-8. Almond returns to some familiar themes--the mystery and the pain of life--in a dramatic story drawn from both global and personal events. It is 1962, and the world is on the brink of nuclear destruction. For Bobby Burns, the waste and ruin is even closer to home: his father is seriously ill, and a cruel schoolmaster is forcing Bobby to take a stand that may destroy his educational chances. As in all of Almond's books, everyday detail mingles with the grotesque. The bizarre here comes in the form of McNulty, a fire-eater and strongman who also pushes sharp objects through his flesh--an explicit demonstration of pain mirrored by Bobby's sticking pins in his hands as a sacrifice to keep his father healthy. For anyone who loves words, Almond's books are a pleasure. But this time the Newcastle accent used by most of the characters may be difficult to grasp initially, and though Almond brings together the strands of his story, some of his many characters are not well integrated. Whatever the book's flaws, though, Almond's writing is so imaginative and layered that turning the pages is always meaningful. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.