September 19, 2010

100 Cupboards

I gotta admit, I was skeptical about this one.  It's a fantasy novel about a kid finding 100 secret cupboards in an attic which open to other magical worlds.  It just sounded a bit trite to me.

But then I read it.  Wilson is never as creepy as Gaiman, but that can work in his favor.  He still has plenty of creepiness, but this will go over with way more of my students than The Graveyard Book ever would have.  Although, I hope some of my students do go on to discover Gaiman's dark chest of wonders at some point down the road.

This tale is about a boy named Henry, moving to a town named Henry where he finds the aforementioned cupboards with one of his cousins, Henrietta (yes, another "Henry").  His reason for moving in with his cousins is highly improbable as well.  So you're not exactly surprised when he discovers magic cupboards hidden beneath the plaster of the attic room he's staying in.

What is surprising is how gently and masterfully N. D. Wilson slowly immerses us into this reality and then there is a man that is there, but not there.  Or maybe Henry dreamed him?  But then his dreams seem connected to the cupboards.  That in itself is nothing new, but the way they're connected isn't as obvious as you'd expect.

So yes, there are familiar tropes.  Witches, hooded figures with staffs and scary hounds.  Letters with wax seals that can be only opened for a specific reader.  Dusty tomes with secrets that must be deciphered.  Black dogs and cats that seem to portend mysterious things.

But in the midst of this is plain old Henry who seems like a real, ordinary, thoughtful, slightly naive, and somewhat depressed twelve-year-old boy that is afraid but realistically drawn to these cupboards for a variety of reasons.

There is more than a whiff of Bradbury here.  Especially in Henry's engaging but stand-offish Uncle Frank.  He allows Henry and his cousins more freedom than Henry has ever experienced in his life (due to his always hovering and worried parents).  Uncle Frank is a direct descendent of Charles Halloway, Will's father in the Bradbury classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes.  He sees young Will and his friend Jim sneak out of the house at night..and he smiles to himself as he lets them go.  He knows they have things to figure out on their own, but is ready to step in help them only when it's needed.

There's another book I hope my students will go on to discover...

For once, I'm looking forward to the sequels.

100 Cupboards (100 Cupboards, Bk 1)

The Graveyard Book

Something Wicked This Way Comes