Monday, August 20, 2007

Would you rather have the power to fly, or to turn invisible?

There's a wonderful This American Life program about this very question. And Laura Ruby's young adult novel explores the idea in an world that is like - but unlike - the New York City we know. 12-year-old Gurl is a "leadfoot," someone who is unable to fly in a society where flying is a prized and admired ability. She lives in an orphanage called Hope House for the Homeless and Hopeless, and there is very little to be hopeful about in that dreary place, especially for a leadfoot. But Gurl is resourceful and adventurous, and when she finds an opportunity to escape from time to time - to enjoy some leftovers thrown out in the alley of an Italian restaurant, for example, she seizes it.

That's where Gurl finds something rare, something she's only heard about in stories -- a cat. A beautiful, soft, cuddly cat. The reader knows that the cat came from a mysterious man called The Professor, a man who knows something about a child who is only born once every hundred years or so, a child that certain sinister people are searching for.

When Gurl discovers her own unique ability to blend into her surroundings, effectively turning invisible, she thinks it might help her stay out of trouble. But it turns out that invisibility only adds to her problems. The greedy Mrs. Terwiliger, matron of Hope House, holds Gurl's beloved cat hostage, forcing her to steal things for her. And the new boy seems to think the cat belongs to him, anyway. Add to the equation sewer rats the size of people, gangsters with zippers on their faces, monkeys with secrets, and a disembodied hand (purchased on eBay - where else?) that knows the answer to just about any question at all, and the adventure of the wall and the wing is just beginning...

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, with eccentric characters and quirky dark humor. It is always a pleasure to discover a book so unexpected and unusual, with complex characters I care about and surprising twists and turns. Plus I particularly liked Mrs. Terwiliger's creepy monkey toys! (Shudder.)

The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby (Eos, 2006)

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