Sixteen year old Jacob Portman just wanted to be fired from his job at the pharmacy. He hated it that his uncles had other plans; they intended for him to work in the family empire, not caring what Jacob wanted to do. What he wanted was to spend more time with his grandfather. He would reflect back on the magical stories he used to tell him when he was young. A floating girl, and invisible boy, and many other impossibilities. It was easy to believe these when he was little, but now, an older and wiser Jacob knew better. That didn't stop him from adoring Grandpa Abe.
One day at work, Jacob received a frantic call from his grandfather telling him that the monsters were coming for him. Jacob rushed to his side, but he was too late. Abe laying dying, torn open by what the police later confirmed was a wild animal attack. With his final breaths, he told Jacob to find the bird and mumbled some other cryptic details.
Even with the help of counselling, Jacob was not able to let go of his grandfather's horrific death. Finally, he convinced his parents that he needed to travel to the remote Welsh island where his grandfather had lived in a children's home for war orphans. There he hoped to find some clue to Abe's final message.
I listened to the audio book version of this twice in the past few months. The second time I enjoyed it so much better than the first. This second time I was able to enjoy the wealth of detail, while the first time I was so busy trying to follow the story and time lines. This was read by Jesse Bernstein. 9 hours 42 minutes. From Books on Tape. The descriptions were so vivid and the voices so well done, that I was able to visualize each of the children and photographs that Jacob looked at periodically throughout the story. It was only later that I learned that the paper version shows the discussed photos and even images of the 'letters' which Jacob reads.
In this novel, we find that it's not easy being a teenager no matter the time period. Jacob has to deal with bullying at school, yet his grandfather had to deal with a war and with the monsters he keeps talking about. Then there are the other children at the home, they have to deal with the isolation from their families as well as from a normal relationship with the rest of the population of the island.
There is only one tiny thing that bothered me in this book, and it is not something that the target audience of 14+ would notice. Emma leads Jacob down into a sunk boat. They are at least twelve feet underwater, and Emma picks up a hose, clears the water from it with a little puff of air and starts breathing. Then she hands the hose to Jacob and he breaths from it. As a trained scuba diver, this isn't going to work. As I said, this is a small thing, and I wasn't going to let it stop me from fully enjoying this book.
End of Spoiler Alert
On his website, Ransom Riggs indicated that he is working on a follow up to this book which he plans to have ready at some point in 2013.
Thank-you to Mr. Riggs for the use of the cover image.
Also reviewed by:
Petty Witter at Pen and Paper