Francesca “Frank” Patel’s summer holiday is interrupted, first by bullies and then by a glimpse of another world.
The neighborhood goons pick on Frank with escalating meanness. But the odd, large, flat-faced boy from her school whose name (Nicholas Underbridge) hints at his unusual origins—the boy everyone claims smells and no one wants to sit with—rescues her bag from a nettle field where the bullies tossed it, then takes her to his house for refuge. Nick’s house, filled with his dad’s colorful abstract paintings, is otherwise tidy except for two things: there is a damp, rich, earthy odor there, and Frank hears extraordinary music that fills her soul and makes her long for more. Frank’s curiosity results in a frightening, nearly world-ending chain of events. Harrold gracefully tosses together hints of quantum physics, old legends, and magic-ministry–type agents. Frank’s struggle to reconcile her fear of her bullies, her growing friendship with Nick, and the truth about the maker of otherworldly music are poignantly convincing and likable. Pinfold’s atmospheric illustrations, darkly menacing and mysterious by turns, add to the contemporary folk-tale atmosphere. The only hints about Frank’s Indian heritage are her name and a minor moment when an elderly woman asks Frank’s wisecracking at-home dad if they have tuna fish “where you come from.”
A captivating British import. (Fantasy. 8-11)