cover image The Trokeville Way

The Trokeville Way

Russell Hoban, Hoban Russell. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $17 (118pp) ISBN 978-0-679-88148-3

Nick Hartley is having a hard time. He is the class bully's target of abuse; he has a crush on the older sister of a friend, a girl he compares to the elusive beggar maid in a famous pre-Raphaelite painting; and he's smart enough to know that the world around him isn't always what it seems. Nick's perceptions change when he comes across a ne'er-do-well magician who tells him, ""Winners get what they want and losers get what they deserve."" The magician sizes Nick up and sells him a ""juzzle,"" a gyroscope plus jigsaw puzzle that, when used in tandem, bring Nick into a surreal world called The Trokeville Way. There, everything is more than a bit off-kilter, beginning with the language: a bridge is a ""brudge""; a forest is a ""little would."" More urgently, the people who loom largest to Nick-his parents, the bully, the older girl-have been blown off course, too. While they seem sturdy enough in the ordinary world, in Trokeville they wander in an almost dreamlike state, easily trapped by obstacles (i.e., not sure how to maintain their chosen direction in life). A new book by Hoban (The Mouse and His Child; The Marzipan Pig) will be welcomed by many, but the philosophical asides and existential regrets may be frustrating for young readers, who will find them digressive and incomprehensible in some cases. An overly neat ending and a general lack of plot and character development also prove disappointing. Ages 10-up. (Nov.)