On an odyssey through the swamp to find his father, a boy discovers the magic of life, love, and storytelling.
After accidentally setting fire to his mother’s bakery, 11-year-old Buddy runs away to the swamp to be with the father he hasn’t seen in five years. Pop’s not only his hero, but the best Parsnit card player around. But no sooner does Buddy see Pop than his father is kidnapped by Boss Authority’s henchmen for reasons revealed later in the novel. In a witty, conversational style and Southern cadence, Buddy narrates his journey to rescue Pop. While initially the setting feels like the American South, Cajoleas’ lush worldbuilding reveals a multiracial community that does not seem to carry the region’s racial history. In this community, Buddy meets an array of folkloric characters of varying races who heighten the swamp’s spookiness. Brown-skinned Tally, one of the spider-folk, saves Buddy from eerie encounters, and he in turn helps his new friend see the beauty of her gift. Paralleling the journey are Buddy’s descriptions of Parsnit. In this dueling card game, overseen by a witch, players test their Orating skill to recount the best stories. As Buddy learns Parsnit tricks, he realizes that loving a flawed parent is even trickier and that real life is more wonderful and mysterious than any story. A few characters are described as black or brown; the default is white.
Vivid imagery and thought-provoking musings make this an ideal read-aloud adventure. (Fantasy. 8-12)