cover image The Word Eater

The Word Eater

Mary Amato. Holiday House, $16.95 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-8234-1468-0

This first novel may hold some appeal for bookworms, but a multitude of subplots proves distracting and weakens the tension. There are two basic story lines. The first revolves around a newborn worm named Fip, whose appetite runs to words rather than dirt. The second centers on sixth-grader Lerner Chase, recently--and unhappily--transplanted from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C. Lerner discovers Fip and realizes that every time he eats a word, the object it signifies disappears forever. The results of Fip's consumption can be pleasant (Fip eats a vending machine number and unleashes free chocolate bars) or dire (Fip eats the name of a newly charted star, sending its discoverer into a crisis). These developments occasion secondary story lines (e.g., about a sinister tycoon who employs thumb tacks and child labor to train the vicious dogs he sells as ""Attackaterriers""). Amato plausibly sketches Lerner's evolving sense of responsibility about Fip's powers, including her panic when he almost eats the word ""oxygen"" and the name of her teacher Mr. Droan (but ends up devouring the words ""Markus Droan's suit"" instead.) The classroom dynamics between the ruling elite, Most Powerful Ones on Earth (MPOOEs), and the outcasts, Sorry Losers Under Ground (SLUGs), are believable enough, but with the exception of Lerner, most characters emerge as caricatures or types. Ages 8-12. (June)