A dyslexic boy finds refuge from a troubled life in a rich fantasy world–that may not be entirely unreal–in this winsome Korean Warâ€“era children’s fable.
Eight-year-old Jake Jennings can hardly believe it when a kindly doctor calls his newly diagnosed dyslexia â€œa gift”: Printed words scramble before his baffled eyes, he’s the butt of schoolyard taunts, and he may be held back for yet a third year in second grade because of his slow reading. Home isn’t much more cheerful. Jake’s dad is presumed dead after his plane is shot down over North Korea, and his mom spends her evenings weeping over a homemade shrine to her lost husband. In addition to a talent for intuitive leaps, Jake’s slightly off-kilter mind does indeed give him a compensatory gift in the form of deep, consoling reveries. Along with his Buck Rogers daydreams, he festoons the attic with Yuletide decorations and imagines that every day is Christmas, the longed-for season of festivity and respite from the hell that is school. One day, he deciphers a mysterious message inscribed on a statuette of a gnome called Old Ebenezer and finds himself drawn into a phantasmagorical world tour of the embattled Christmas spirit, one that gives him an improbable hope that his father is alive. The vision–or was it just a dream?–brings to a head the conflict in Jake between the need to adjust to reality and the pull of wishful thinking. Jake’s story is a bit sentimental, but doesn’t cross the line into bathos. Clausen (Ghost Lover, 1982) nicely evokes his struggle with dyslexia and loneliness, and the longing he feels, like many people, for a little holiday magic to repair a hopelessly broken family.
A charming, heartfelt Christmas tale.