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Erikka Knorr, twelve, loves beauty, admires her visiting illustrator aunt, resents having to live cooped up in a Chicago apartment with a drab stepmother and three younger kids, and finds a haven in the second-hand bookstore run by her 84-year-old friend Mr. Tolyukov. When skulduggery on the part of a rich book-collector couple forces Mr. Tolyukov to close his store, Erikka enlists her aunt, a boy her age, and another of the old man's friends--a Filipino violinist-medical student--in a little counter-skulduggery which does effect some justice, though the bookstore remains closed. In the process Erikka comes to realize that art and virtue are not synonymous, and that everyday human relationships have value too. Within this realistic story there are some problems--the atmosphere belies the present-day (TV-watching) setting, Erikka seems younger than twelve, and both impressions are reinforced by the 1930s-style cover picture--but Maguire does well with the squabbling, penny-pinched family and with the aura of art-and-friendship among the circle at the bookstore. The real problem is with the fantasy element that Maguire throws in, beginning with Erikka's jarring entrance into a watercolor her aunt has done of a scene in upstate New York. There are a few such trips to the scene, where a witch-like old woman calls Erikka daughter and prattles oddly about the little girl's heartless self-absorption; then, on Erikka's last return from the picture, the old woman gets pulled back with her and into Erikka's Chicago bedroom (surprising the unimaginative stepmother, you bet). And that solves everyone's problems, because the old crone is really not Therese Malloy, as she had said, but the Countess Olga Theresa Molokiev, Mr. Tolyukov's long-lost fiancÉe. She was separated from him during the Russian Revolution and has been ensconced in a crude New York mountain hut, with nothing but strands and strands of jewelry which will now allow the old couple to live comfortably and sell books as they choose. If Maguire is suggesting in the through-the-looking-glass inserts that Erikka's wished-for fantasy world must yield to human reality, then perhaps this ending is a joke; but he appears to be quite serious. The author of the even more pretentious and ill-yoked Lightning Time (1978), Maguire has a Master's Degree in Children's Literature, which might account for the problems with both books.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1980
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux