cover image Mobile Library

Mobile Library

David Whitehouse. Scribner, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4943-3

After a thrashing by his abusive father and a schoolyard fight, young Bobby Nusku takes refuge with a neighborhood cleaning lady, Val, and her disabled daughter, Rosa, all the while pining for his mysteriously absent mother. Piling into a recently deactivated mobile library vehicle that Val maintains on weekends, Val and her charges run away. On their journey, they meet Joe, a gangly ex-soldier drifter, and decide to pose as a family as they evade the authorities in England and head towards a safe haven in Scotland. The group bonds while consuming classic literature, stealing supplies, and painting the vehicle to appear less conspicuous, yet Bobby cannot forget his past. He pores over artifacts of his mother that he's meticulously kept in jars and folders, waiting for the day of her return. Whitehouse's narrative provides moments of charm and whimsy, particularly as characters take on storybook personas (the Caveman, the Zookeeper, the Hunter), but the abrupt perspective shifts, often multiple times per chapter, are occasionally clumsy, and the narrative's voyage is intermittently striking. When stacked against the literary gems Bobby and his crew read throughout, from The Little Prince to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Whitehouse's novel feels ordinary. (Jan.)