Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: The Book of Lost Things - Cynthia Voigt

The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt
Series: Mister Max #1
Genre: Middle Grade, mystery
Published on September 10, 2013
Published by Knopf Books
Pages: 400
Read From: 4.7.14 - 4.11.14

Max Starling's theatrical father likes to say that at twelve a boy is independent. He also likes to boast (about his acting skills, his wife's acting skills, a fortune only his family knows is metaphorical), but more than anything he likes to have adventures. Max Starling's equally theatrical
mother is not a boaster but she enjoys a good adventure as much as her husband. When these two disappear, what can a sort-of-theatrical Max and his not-at-all theatrical grandmother do? They have to wait to find out something, anything, and to worry, and, in Max's case, to figure out how to earn a living at the same time as he maintains his independence.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I do like the cover art. It's Snickety and Victorian and fun. It looks like a book full of quirks and oddities. Though to be quite honest, the boy looks like a girl.

Characters: Max Starling is a very resourceful twelve-year-old, with a face so forgettable that he's able to don as many disguises as his rather odd life requires. Only his eyes ever make an impression on people, for they are a strange gray color. And to tell you the truth, if it weren't for Max's uncanny ability to disguise himself and become whatever character is required, I, too, might find his eyes to be the only memorable thing about him. Max isn't one-dimensional, but I do feel like we didn't get to know him as well as we could have. A first-person narration might have helped. Meanwhile, the other characters populate Max's world with their quirks and stories - each one unique to the person so that the Reader remembers the character, even if one tends to forget their name.

The Romance: There isn't any!

Plot: Max Starling's parents are actors; they have graced many a stage and are known for some of the memorable roles in theater history. Everything in their house is a dramatic production - except their only child, whom they love, but do tend to forget about. Not that Max minds; he wants to learn how to independent as soon as possible anyway. But it wasn't in Max's plans to have his parents suddenly disappear. When they receive an invitation from the Maharajah of Kashmire to perform in India, the Starlings jump at the opportunity. But then they vanish without a trace; no one has heard of the ship they were supposed to depart on, and there is no record of them in any other passenger manifests. All Max has to go on in a cryptic message his father leaves behind that makes absolutely no sense. What's a twelve-year-old boy to do? All Max can do is learn to be independent - for his grandmother can hardly support the both of them - and hope that word turns up later. The Book of Lost Things wasn't as focused on intrigue and mystery as I thought it would be. In fact, I probably should feel really disappointed - and in some ways, I do just a little bit. The Book of Lost Things has lots of great characters, and the underlying plot of what has happened to Max's parents. But the majority of the book is spent with Max trying to find employment, painting when he can't figure out what to do, and finding lost things for clients after he sets himself up as a detective (though Max refuses to be called that). Really, The Book of Lost Things is a series of mini mysteries - some of them connected, others not. The Starlings' disappearance really doesn't factor in until much later, and even then not very much. Yes, I got a little bored, but I still enjoyed the "mini mysteries" and the various characters.

Believability: I'm not sure what era - or even where - this book is supposed to take place. I would assume England, and I would also assume the very late 1890s, maybe early 1900s. It never says, though.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. The writing style is very pleasant, very fitting for whatever era this book is either supposed to take place in, or is supposed to imitate.

Content: None.

Conclusion: The twist is easy to figure out - I saw it the moment a "metaphorical fortune." And most Readers probably will, too. But there's no denying that The Book of Lost Things is a very odd little story that left me feeling . . . well, a little undecided. I like Max and the characters and the mini mysteries. But it was a little disappointing in the fact that it hardly had anything to do with the Starlings' disappearance, and it got a little boring from time to time. How many times can we read about Max trying to paint the sky, or that his funds are getting low again? But I have a hard time saying that I merely found this book "okay." I suppose what will really decide how I felt about this book will be the next two sequels.

Recommended Audience: Girl-and-boy read, fourteen-and-up, fans of Victorian-esque mysteries.

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