The Slippery Map by N.E. Bode (took me a while to get that)
Gah. Unlike the charming letter Suzanne Selfors used to begin Smells Like Treasure, N.E. Bode’s letter feels adult and dry. Evidently our author is dealing with a crisis of confidence and manages to pull out of it due to a magnificent story told by a nun. These are inherently adult things, being at a conference and feeling like a fraud, having a vast knowledge of nuns. I am not quite as anxious to delve into this one.
The story begins in a nunnery where a ten year old boy, Oyster, is increasingly difficult. He’s been raised by nuns after being abandoned as a baby, but as an older child he is continually up to mischief, much to their dismay. Think Maria in the Sound of Music, but with more tadpoles. These nuns have fantastic names such as Sister Mary Many Pockets and Sister Alice Self-Defense, thus dubbed by Oscar, it seems, based on their main characteristics (a trick that allows the author to avoid any characterization of these women). Like many children who have been abandoned or given up for adoption Oscar thinks of his parents and sometimes wonders if he’s where he belongs. A truly awful woman who works with the nuns adds to his fears by continually harassing him and calling him a reject.
But when Oscar finally makes it outside the protective walls of the convent, he soon learns there is more to the world than his tiny safe haven. There’s even more to the world than his own city of Baltimore. A chance encounter with a Mapkeeper of Imagined Other Worlds sets Oscar wondering, but before he’s truly dreamt of what may come, he finds himself inside a map, specifically, another world imagined by his parents. He is viewed as a salvation, the one who will save this world which is in peril.
From there an adventure ensues. Sadly, it drags in places and rushes through others. Characterization is weak and the world building is a bit lacking. Children who are into imaginary creatures and worlds might take to it more than others, but it’s unlikely to draw in children who aren’t used to the genre. I felt like there was too much going on and also, not quite enough going on.
It should be noted that I have some concerns with the handling of adoption in this book, from the abandonment on the church steps to his parents being a married, happy couple. While Oscar does explore some of the emotions that might be typical of a child in his situation, in other parts, it seems like his fantasy of a normal home life with his biological parents will come true. I think my one true relief in the end was that he did end up mostly staying with the nuns and visiting his parents.
An additional note of annoyance: Oscar had long wished to be friends with a boy who lived across the street from the convent. A boy who happened to wear leg braces. And of course, was miraculously cured by the end of the book. I just can’t. You lose any possible credit for diverse characters if you’re going to use magic to heal them in the end.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – “darn,”
Death, Violence and Gore – A woman has a bloody nose. There’s a completely non-threatening threat to kill someone. Birds are dying due to too much sugar. Something called a “winger” has been mostly eaten by Goggles (some type of spy-frog thing). The bad guy (Dark Mouth) turns people to bone or locks them away. Goggles are kicked in their kidneys, roped by tongues, burnt with cigarette lighters, knit together, and swatted with fly swatters. We’re told there was bloodshed. An evil character is defeated, bitten by a dog and then deflated, with his innards poking out.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A nun is called Sister Eloise of the Occasional Cigarette.
Frightening or Intense Things – Oyster does quite a bit of wondering about what kind of people could have given him up and if his naughtiness is at all stemming from the fact that the type of people who abandon a child can’t be good people. Many adopted children need to process the fact of their birth parents having chosen not to parent them. For most readers this may be a non-issue, but for children who are adopted themselves, parents may want to check in with their readers as they read. Also, children keep disappearing temporarily. After a short time it becomes apparent that through some magic and whatnot that Oyster’s parents are alive and love and want him, which is not entirely helpful to true adoptees.