A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there is little to be concerned with here: a woman throws herself into a pond but is quickly rescued, sea monsters battle, and men injured in war are talked about. There are also some passing references to wine and cigarettes.
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What's the story?
Coming home one day an elderly woman finds a strange boy sitting on her sofa. Though surprised, she welcomes him, makes tea, and begins to talk. Gradually the boy, in his rather cranky way, draws from her the story of her life, which centers on her great love for a wild man she calls Feather, whom she finds holding a pelican on the beach. Though they live together for a time, eventually he disappears, and she embarks on a sea journey to try to find him and ask him an important question. But who is the boy on the sofa, and why is he there?
Is it any good?
Sometimes it can be difficult to fathom the decisions that publishers make -- such as why this is being sold in the children's section. This gorgeously ethereal, lyrical story will not be to the taste of many kids, imbued as it is with nostalgia and the complexities of adult love and regret. Allegorical, with touches of magic realism and mythological references in its central section, and much philosophizing about the nature of love, life, and happiness, it is the kind of little book that can make a big splash on adult bestseller lists.
Teens with a romantic bent may find it of some interest, and if they can get through the first half they'll find it gets more exciting once Feather finally leaves -- his presence tends to depress the story, and does so again when he briefly reappears later on. This is really Maddy's story, and she's the only really interesting character in it, though her father and the mysterious boy have their moments. This is a lovely but odd little book being marketed to the wrong audience.
From the Book:
"Excellent," said her father. "That's the most tiresome part over and done. So, after all that history and geography and elocution and needlework, did you learn the answer?" Maddy blinked twice. "Which answer, Papa?" Her father poured the last of the wine into his glass, and motioned for the maid to bring the port. "The answer to the only important question there is, of course: What is the world's most beautiful thing?"
Mama, opposite Maddy, leaned on her elbows and gave a languorous laugh. "That's easy, Matilda," she said. "Victory is the world's most beautiful thing. There's nothing uglier than defeat, and nothing prettier than winning. Don't ask the girl ridiculous questions, Frank."