February 5, 2010

Book Review: 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson

Another book review by ~S

This time I thought I would be reviewing an adult novel, but what I'm working on just isn't that interesting. In fact, it's just sitting in The Stack waiting for me to get back to it. Instead, I zipped through 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson. Some might speculate it's the large print and only 320 pages but I think it's because--once the action got going--I wanted to find out what was in all of the cupboards.

In 100 Cupboards, Henry York is sent to stay with his Aunt Dotty, Uncle Frank, and three girl cousins (Penelope, Henrietta, and Anastasia) when his parents are kidnapped while biking in Columbia. He moves into an attic room and discovers one of his walls is covered with cupboards when a bit of the plaster comes loose revealing the first of the doors. Once Henry removes the plaster, he sets out to open the doors. He is only sort of successful. One of the cupboards he opens emits a pleasant, earthy smell and sounds of rain and wind. A different cupboard opens into a mailbox. There's also the black door which makes Henry sick when opened by his partner in hi-jinks, Henrietta. What finally happens with the cupboards kept me turning pages right up to the end. Ultimately, the cupboards deliver fantasy and terror as well as some violence. . . everything you could hope for from a tale of magic.

While the magic cupboards are clearly front and center, I also got a good slice of Henry's life. I learned about Henry's relationship to his parents and with his Aunt, Uncle, and cousins. I developed a sense of how a small town functions. The flavor really comes through in the exchanges between Uncle Frank and Billy regarding the locked door to Grandpa's bedroom and the problems with pride in whether or not to pay someone for something as simple as opening a locked door. I also enjoyed Henry leaning to play baseball, getting his first taste of soda, and owning his first (and probably only if his parents have anything to say about it) pocket knife. Finally, I really liked the relationship between Henry and Uncle Frank. I thought quite a bit about buying tumbleweeds off the internet (well, I actually wondered what Oregon item I could easily collect and bundle to sell on the internet). It's these quiet intrusions of real life which made the story so complete, and the contrast makes the magical bits that much more alluring.

The downside. . . well, you don't get to find out what's in all of the cupboards or possibly where they all go. The bits and pieces-especially the ruined ballroom-hint at what might be found. I was also a little disappointed by how lacking in imagination Henry and Henrietta were. They got mysterious mail but didn't seem able to speculate on what the letters were discussing. I found that weird since-in my experience-even children from very sheltered homes are able to imagine what things mean and don't just dismiss them as nonsensical. My final complaint is that you only meet TBE (The Big Evil) at the end of the book. For someone plotting destruction and domination, there's not much to her until she's suddenly in the house and knows all about the family and town―even Henry who has only been there a short time. Additionally, characters aware of TBE just fall before her without much resistance. I think I would have preferred a little more building up of TBE and a better sense of her evil tendrils slowly escaping her cupboard prison.

Once again, I am looking forward to the next book, Dandelion Fire: Book 2 of the 100 Cupboards. I assume I'll also really want the third book which was just released January 26, 2010 (The Chestnut King: Book 3 of the 100 Cupboards). 

So many books yet so much time taken away from reading by work and sleep. . . what's a girl to do?

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