Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Kneebone Boy

The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter tells the story of the Hardscrabble children, Otto, Lucia and Max, whose mother disappeared several years before the book begins.

The book is narrated by one of the Hardscrabbles but the narrator refuses to tell us which one. The oldest brother, Otto, has not spoken in years and wears a scarf all the time, winter, summer, day and night.  He looks different from his siblings, too, having blond hair while their hair is dark.  Perhaps, he is the narrator? 
Their father is an artist, painting the portraits of lesser aristocracy and fallen royalty.  He travels quite a bit but brings home the best sketches and wild stories of the people he meets.

One of the children intercepts a letter from an aunt they barely know threatening to do something if the father doesn't tell them the truth about their mother.  Then their father is called away to do another portrait and he sends the three children to spend time with this aunt.  But she is not expecting them and they are on their own.

Which turns out to be fine, actually.  These books are always far more satisfying if the children have to find their own way.  The aunt lets them stay in the "folly" or playhouse right outside Kneebone castle and it is here that they learn about the mythical Kneebone Boy. 

Every generation, the Kneebone family produces a child who is horribly deformed - or so it is told.  The castle is supposed to be abandoned but the Hardscrabbles know it is not and they are determined to save the Kneebone boy from isolation and deprivation.

The playhouse is huge - as big as a regular house - with gadgets and trickery galore.  And there is an ominous local who spends far too much time in the surrounding woods - as do Otto, Lucia and Max.

The ending ties everything up very neatly, and if I was ten or eleven or twelve, I'd accept it without question.  After all, parents do things for unfathomable reasons, right?  So, read The Kneebone Boy.  When you do, I'd like to know.  Did you even for one second, expect it to end the way it does?

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