In Selby’s debut young-adult adventure novel, a boy hits the road during the Depression and finds friends, foes and a fire-breathing dragon.
Twelve-year-old Christopher and his father have traveled from town to town for most of the boy’s life, but Christopher doesn’t know why. The mystery deepens when Christopher’s father is “bloodied and scarred beyond recognition” after a car chase with thugs. “It’s you they want, Christopher. It’s you.…Run,” his father says. After riding the rails with some less-than-delightful hoboes, Christopher assumes the fake name Michael Hawk and winds up in an orphanage run by the sadistic Mr. and Mrs. Drudge. There, he also meets fellow orphan Emily, “the loveliest person he’d ever seen.” He’s ordered to search for a treasure map hidden in the orphanage’s attic; if he doesn’t deliver, he’s told, the Drudges will throw him into “the pit.” However, he encounters a ghost that makes his chore more difficult, and his adventures become more fantastic as the story progresses: He joins an aerial circus run by the flamboyant Lotus Moondragon, journeys to the Island of Whispering Mist and learns that he may be a person known as “The One,” foretold by a mysterious prophecy. Author Selby’s delirious mixture of story ingredients will keep young bookworms reading as they await the next plot twist. Although the book has obvious debts to Louis Sachar’s Holes and the Harry Potter series, it’s anchored by colorful characters, athletic prose and an intriguing mystery that readers will want to see resolved in future volumes. That said, parents should be aware that the book doesn’t shy away from dealing with some darker material (including carnivorous spiders and murder)—a quality shared by some of the most beloved works of YA literature.
A fast-paced adventure story that will engage young readers.