The Hardscrabble children have one question: did their mum disappear or is she dead? Their father Casper not only won't directly answer the question, he isn't home a lot. He is an artist who travels to paint portraits of almost-royals (princes and princesses of obscure, never-heard-of lands). Case in point: The children return from school one day to have their packed bags on the front steps. Casper must go away again, and the children are to stay with their Aunt Angela in London.
Except when they get to London, Aunt Angela is on holiday in Germany! With no place to go and nothing but time, the children decide to make good use of their time. They travel to Snoring-by-the-Sea to find Haddie Piggits, a distant relative on their mother's side, in hopes that she will have the answers they've been seeking. Little did they expect to be living in a life-size toy castle, decoding poems, helping ghosts, and discovering hidden tunnels to get those answers.
On its surface, The Kneebone Boy is a mystery adventure with quirky (and fun) characters. It has a bit of a Lemony Snicket feel to it that fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events will enjoy. I appreciated that Otto, Lucia, and Max were not a run-of-the-mill sibling trio that you so often see in middle grade stories. The same cannot be said for Casper. At the beginning, he seems to be a hapless dad who was struggling with the "loss" of his wife. Basically, the stereotypical "bad parent" of children's books. Close to the end, however, this unravels. He knows where his wife is, visits her regularly at the asylum in Snoring-by-the-Sea, and has been lying to his children about it for years. His paintings are of patients, not deposed royals. This revelation seem to come almost out of nowhere, raises its own set of issues, and left me with lots of unanswered questions.
Despite the book's title, the title character does not come onto the scene until nearly two-thirds through the book. I kept re-reading earlier content thinking maybe I missed something. Frankly, his appearance adds a twist that is more of a sidebar than relevant to the main story.
Unique characters and strong sibling relationships are the heart of this quirky story that is part adventure, part mystery. Young readers are likely to find friends in Otto, Lucia, and Max.
The story is a quirky adventure that ultimately uncovers a father's lies to his children about the fate of their mother. While it is a work of fiction, some readers may find this problematic.
This is a middle grade book that is part mystery, part adventure, part quest.
This is a story meant for leisure. Mr. Hardscrabble's choices could easily prompt some great discussions with young readers, who most likely don't find him a trustworthy adult.
11 and Up
10 and Up
Borrow, but only if you like dark stories and quirky characters.