________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 8 . . . . December 5, 2008

cover Bookweird.

Paul Glennon.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2008.
250 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-0-385-66547-6.

Subject Headings:
Books and Reading-Juvemile fiction.
Problem solving-Juvenile fiction

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Tara Williston.

*** /4


These visions tumbled through his head as the first wolf crept into the clearing. Norman saw only the bright yellow glow of its eyes and heard the low anticipatory growl. A second set of eyes soon appeared beside the first. […] How is it possible that they don’t see me, Norman managed to wonder, but only for a second.

In another breath, the wolves leapt to action. All snarls and flashing teeth, the assailed the slim trunk of Norman’s tree. The sapling lurched under their weight. Their front paws stretched up higher on the trunk and pushed again, and Norman looked down into the eyes of the animals that hunted him. A horrible, sickening fear overtook him as he gazed into the narrowing eyes. It was as if these eyes had always hunted him. He knew the jagged teeth beneath them, the salivating mouth and the meat-tasting breath. This was the big bad wolf of every kids’ story. It knew him, knew his terror. Norman’s legs went weak beneath him. He hardly felt his feet slip. He only felt himself falling. […]

If you died in a book, Norman wondered, did you die in real life, or did you wake up again in your bed?

The heart-stopping scene excerpted above is just one of the many action-packed events 11-year-old Norman Jespers-Vilnius lives through when he inadvertently lands himself inside the world of his favourite fantasy series, the “Undergrowth” books. And the adventures don’t stop there: no sooner does Norman at last wake up in his own bed than does he find himself thrown into the world of a book once more. This time it’s one of his little sister’s boring girly horse books – only things aren’t so boring in this particular horse book. There is unexpected trouble at the horse farm, and Norman quickly discovers that it comes in the all-too-familiar shape of a wolf he’s seen before.

     Suddenly, Norman realizes that the night he distractedly nibbled away an entire page of his latest “Undergrowth” installment, and thus accidentally altered that story’s events, he had, in fact, set off a whole chain of unwritten events in other books as well. Once he has patched things up as best he can in the horse book, Norman again returns to real life, only to be swept into one of his mother’s gruesome murder mysteries and then into one of his father’s cherished medieval English poems. He senses that there is something larger amiss, something that reaches beyond just his book and even beyond all of his family’s books, but he doesn’t know what. He only knows that he must somehow right his wrongs in the book world because, as much as he likes to read, he sure would like to get back to regular life, and stay there! With the dubious help of a strange and shifting character who appears in various forms in both real life and in the book worlds Norman moves through, Norman is, at last, able to solve the web of problems he managed to spin when he interfered with the story of The Brothers of Lochwarren, and he returns to real life and his real family, who despite all their faults and foibles, suddenly don’t seem so bad after all.

    In Bookweird, Ottawa author Paul Glennon, already an established name in the adult Canadian literature scene, has shown himself to be equally talented as a writer for children. Ironically enough, although Bookweird chronicles the adventures of a young boy who positively loves to read, this may be just the book to hook boys who don’t love to read! Filled with battle scenes, mysterious puzzles, and harrowing life-or-death moments, as well as annoying siblings and parents who just don’t understand, the book has a winning combination of fantastic adventure that will excite young readers and a realism to which they’ll be able to relate. Although, at 250 pages, the book is certainly on the long side for this age group, and it does begin to drag through Norman’s second and third in-book journeys, things pick up again in the final 50 pages and come to a rousing finish with Norman’s successfully tying up all loose ends. Glennon has, however, resisted the urge to tie things up too neatly and allows the force of the “bookweird” to remain essentially a mystery to both his protagonist and his reader. Indeed, far from revealing all at the book’s end, the author even goes so far as to add one more puzzling twist, with the book’s last sentence about Norman’s mother: “It would have been interesting to hear her explain why, when she found the map on Norman’s floor that day, she peered at it curiously for some time before folding it up and putting it in her pocket.”

    Besides being a fresh story with an exciting plot, Bookweird comes recommended for its well-chosen language and expansive cast of highly believable characters. With so many different settings and storylines, one might expect Glennon to miss his mark at some point along the way, but even characters who appear for only a few pages are vivid. As for his use of language, there are several passages in this novel which bear rereading for sheer literary enjoyment. What’s more, the author has not shied away from using unusual words when they are called for, which only adds to the feel of authenticity of each book world where Norman finds himself. Young readers’ vocabulary skills will certainly be stretched with this book, though it is easy enough to guess by the context at the meanings of technical and historical phrases like “arrows nocked,” “buttressed abbey,” and “retainers.” If readers are as interested as I believe they will be in this story, their curiosity may be stoked enough for them to burn a path to the nearest dictionary!

    It is only a shame that Bookweird seems to have been rather hastily edited: there is some descriptive repetition in places, and I lost count of the number of times there were words missing from sentences throughout the book. This is the type of obvious error that children easily notice, and it does detract somewhat from what is otherwise very good writing and a very good story.


Tara Williston is a student in the Master’s of Library and Information Studies program at the University of British Columbia, and a soon-to-be (she hopes!) full-time children’s librarian.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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