This odd, convoluted fable feels incomplete and isn’t an easy read, but its haunting imagery has staying power.
Claire’s first treasure was the music box Uncle Charlie gave her. When he’s badly injured in a car accident he’s unlikely to survive, Claire retreats into a world that mirrors her own. Everything and everyone in this looking-glass world is broken, including the music box that Clara, Claire’s counterpart, buys with an IOU. Here, Claire escapes and eventually comes to terms with violent mortality. Its dwellings, like dollhouses, lack walls; denizens buy and sell broken detritus in a city broken in half by a wild, widening river. The powerful conceit almost sustains the novel but can’t replace what’s missing: characters readers care about. Readers never meet Charlie or see him interact with Claire, so what his loss means to her remains unclear, blunting the impact of her fugue. Readers aren’t allowed to find their bearings in Claire’s world before they’re plunged into Clara’s broken one (populated with far more vivid characters). The style clamors for readers’ attention—conceptual quirks replace chapters; narration switches among first, second and third person—further distancing them from the tale being spun.
Whether readers find it brilliantly original or obscurely self-indulgent, Russon’s risk-taking should spark the best kind of literary debate. (author’s note) (Fiction. 12 & up)