Younguncle Comes to Town
Vandana Singh. Viking Books, $14.99 (153pp) ISBN 978-0-670-06051-1
First published in India, this quirky, uneven collection of tales, Singh's debut book, centers on a free-spirited fellow who manages-in often preposterous ways-to bail out friends and family in trouble. In the first, a jaunty entry, three siblings await the arrival of Younguncle, their father's youngest brother, whose real name no one remembers since he prefers to be addressed in this manner (""He has always been a little different from other people,"" the children's father explains). The mischief-riddled exploits that follow prove this to be quite the understatement. Younguncle outwits a gang of pickpockets and uses a cache of frisky monkeys to help retrieve a beloved stolen cow. In the book's most long-winded and complicated adventure, Younguncle visits his great-uncle's village, where he rescues his relative's purloined horse, simultaneously saving an endangered tiger, humiliating a notorious rogue and appeasing a disgruntled ghost. Singh shapes a colorful hero and some successful slapstick scenarios. Along the way, readers also learn about Indian culture; a sprinkling of Hindu terms appears in the text, and the custom of arranged marriages comes to the fore in a tale about Younguncle posing as an out-of-control fool to prevent his sister's dreaded wedding. Yet the narrative at times seems awkward and choppy, and the stories focus on many events unlikely to interest young readers. Ages 8-up.
Reviewed on: 04/03/2006