cover image The Book of Story Beginnings

The Book of Story Beginnings

Kristin Kladstrup, . . Candlewick, $15.99 (360pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-2609-9

A cryptic message in a dream draws a girl into a century-old mystery in Kladstrup's debut novel. As the story opens, Lucy Martin's great-aunt has just passed away, leaving her home in Iowa to the girl's family (the timing couldn't be better, as Lucy's father has just been denied tenure). In a letter written before she died, Aunt Lavonne mentions a mysterious book she has discovered, Oscar, her older brother who went missing in 1914, and a dream in which Oscar tells Lavonne, "Lucy will explain!" In their new home, Lucy discovers the titular book, in which a young Oscar had written the openings for several stories he did not finish. One of those stories tells of a boy whose farmhouse is suddenly surrounded by a "great black sea"—just like the one Lavonne remembers appearing the night Oscar vanished—and shortly thereafter Lucy meets Oscar in the attic, still a boy, with no idea where he has been all these years. It turns out that anything written in the book becomes real—which Lucy discovers too late, after her father suffers the consequences. The narrative becomes a bit convoluted here, teeming with transformation potions, talismans and books of alchemy, but it makes for whimsical escapism. Plot trumps character development; as a result Lucy never quite comes into focus. Readers may be reminded of Michael Ende's The Neverending Story , which shares some similar themes and ideas. Ages 10-13. (Apr.)