Francesca's Reviews > The Kneebone Boy

The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter
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's review
Feb 07, 11

(First reviewed on Young Adult Books Central:

I’ll let you in on a secret. I had to race to finish reading The Kneebone Boy in time to write this review. Not because I had a hard time reading it: in fact, I found it a pleasantly gripping read. No, the problem was that my son had picked it up off my desk and then disappeared with it. For weeks. That alone is rave-review enough. He views anything I’m reading with great suspicion, as if it were broccoli in book-form, (wholesome, good for you and not all that much fun to consume). This book however, was a hit.

The Kneebone Boy, by Ellen Potter, lets you in on a secret too—on many secrets, really. Along the way, there are mechanical rats, hidden passages, a mighty dragon-slayer, Fluffernutter sandwiches, a deposed Sultan, missing relatives, a local legend and three resourceful, intelligent children—and all around and through the story, like a wisp of fog, slinks the sense that the world is a stranger, more mysterious place than the grown-ups would have us believe.

However, The Kneebone Boy also suggests that the world is far more normal than we might hope. No matter how strange or unbelievable an event, story or person seems to be (a five-legged cat, an imprisoned child-monster, a stuffed miniature zebra), sooner or later there is a logical(ish) explanation.

The book tells the story of the three Hardscrabble children who, having been sent to stay with an aunt by their distracted, artist father, instead find themselves lost and alone in London. They flee the city, landing at the miniature castle their American great-aunt is currently renting. Adventures ensue, much to their delight, because it is important, as Lucia points out, to have at least one big adventure before you turn fourteen and start to become dull and grown-up. Fourteen, as JM Barrie didn’t quite say, is the beginning of the end.

The whole story is narrated by Lucia, although like Oswald Bastable of The Treasure Seekers (another very self-conscious narrator), she refuses to directly reveal her identity. However, she’s quite happy to tease the reader with asides about what is coming up next, as well as how hard it is to write a book. That the book knows full well that it is a book is part of this circularity of fiction and reality.

In the end, if there is anything I would quibble about, it is that The Kneebone Boy is almost too conscious of itself as a work of fiction to be utterly satisfying. How many layers between ourselves and what is Real can we tolerate before we stop believing in anything, like some less-than-utterly-royal princess who just doesn’t notice that darn pea? The Kneebone Boy remains, however, a fun, engaging and original (a word I don’t use lightly) work of fiction and one you should keep fast hold of, lest your child (or parent) attempt to abscond with it before you finish.


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