A debut middle-grade novel follows an outcast with a surprising talent.
Eleven-year-old Matthew Mitchell was born with the ability to float. More accurately, it is something he was cursed with, an affliction over which he has no control. From the moment his parents found baby Matthew sleeping in midair above his mat, his life was never going to be normal. People don’t always react well to things they don’t understand, the Mitchells reason. In an effort to protect Matthew, they dress him in gravity boots. These keep him grounded, but he has to wear them all the time. Instead of being the boy who floats, he now stands out as the boy who wears funny boots. Matthew’s is a miserable young life. But then some bullies pull his boots off and he floats away, up to the clouds where there are other children like him living happily and carefree. These are the Nubivagants, and among them Matthew feels at home. But what about his parents? For all the bliss of his new existence, he starts to worry. Will he ever see his mum and dad again? Will he ever make it back down to Earth? Furman has crafted a serious-minded story for middle-grade readers, with the sober themes (loneliness, bullying, disability) softened by an inclusive narrative voice, 12 full-page illustrations, and the joyous magic of the Nubivagants’ world in the clouds. Matthew is easy to identify with, and Furman addresses himself directly to the reader, elucidating as if the book is being read out loud by a parent: “If you go around expecting the best-case scenario to happen in every situation, you’re setting yourself up for an awful lot of disappointment, I’m afraid.” The conversational tone helps ease the story over a slow-ish first act and into the wonder and fast-moving adventure of the remaining two-thirds. While the author gently moralizes throughout the volume, the emotional ending and the sting in its tail are testament to an imaginative journey well-taken. This is the sort of fondly remembered story that adults will track down later in life and read to their own kids.
An inventive and stirring tale that features a lonely boy who finds friends among the clouds.