The Lost Boy: Beautiful artwork makes up for a derivative story

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Lost Boy by Greg Ruth

THE LOST BOYBeautiful artwork makes up for a derivative story, but some “homage” should be acknowledged

Middle grade readers who like The Amulet will probably enjoy Greg Ruth’s graphic novel adventure, The Lost Boy, published by Scholastic. This is a conventional tale, enlivened with beautiful black and white artwork that looks like it’s done in pencil. I have to admit that the cover immediately sucked me in.

Nate Castle has just moved to a new house in a new town, a town filled with tree-lined streets and very curious birds. While he is exploring the house he finds a 1960s-vintage tape recorder hidden in an upstairs room. It has a label, “This is the private property of Walt Pidgin. Top Secret.” Surprisingly, the recorder still plays, and Nate hears a few words of the mystery that haunted Walt, back in the early 1960s.

The strangeness Walt was exploring has not diminished, and when Nate becomes acquainted with the prickly local girl Tabitha, he finds out that Walt was a victim of the story himself. He vanished. Many people in town thought he ran away, but there is much more going on than just a runaway; there’s a wisecracking cricket who rides a Rottweiler, an antique doll that walks and talks, a pugnacious talking squirrel, and a fearsome walking tree-creature called the Vespertine that threatens both Tabitha and Nate.

lost boy 1The story moves back and forth in time, with the recorder as the device that shifts the reader to Walt’s timeline and back to Nate’s. By the second half of the book, Nate, Tabitha and Haloran, a man from town, are deep in the Crow Woods, facing and fighting the Vespertine and its army. Haloran hints that the war they have stumbled into has been going on for a very long time, and that there is a greater adversary than the tree-creature deeper in the woods.

An adult reader will stumble across awkward bits that are derivative or worse; the Vespertine is searching for a “key” to unlock the last of the “gates” that hold them in the forest. It’s hard not to immediately think of Joe Hill’s Locke and Key. In possibly the worst bit of uncited “borrowing,” the squirrel says that an ancient forest queen used the key, and “it rarely took her where she wanted to go, but always took her where she needed to be.” This is practically a word-for-word quotation from Neil Gaiman’s Doctor Who episode, The Doctor’s Wife. Even the name Haloran, even though it is spelled differently, echoes the character in Stephen King’s book The Shining. With names like Haloran and Tabitha, with magical keys that appear and disappear, sometimes it feels like we’re in an unauthorized King-land. Middle readers, however, probably won’t make those connections yet, and will just enjoy the ride

Illustration by Greg Ruth.The story picks up the pace in the second half. Nate and Tabitha need to make moral choices, and their approach to situations differ, which creates genuine tension.

The best thing about The Lost Boy, though, is the artwork. Whether it’s the fine lines that create the children’s faces, the texture of Nate’s hair, looking as if the wind has just tousled it, the tiny cracks on the porcelain of the doll’s face, or the forbidding, shadowy expanse of the forest, Ruth’s touch with a pencil is exquisite and so is his eye for light and shadow. This is a beautifully drawn book and a nice take on a traditional tale. I hope in the next volume Ruth leaves aside the touchstones he’s brought from other work he’s admired, and trusts his own voice and vision more.

Published in 2013. Some mysteries are too dangerous to leave alone . . . Nate’s not happy about his family moving to a new house in a new town. After all, nobody asked him if he wanted to move in the first place. But when he discovers a tape recorder and note addressed to him under the floorboards of his bedroom, Nate is thrust into a dark mystery about a boy who went missing many, many years ago. Now, as strange happenings and weird creatures begin to track Nate, he must partner with Tabitha, a local girl, to find out what they want with him. But time is running out, for a powerful force is gathering strength in the woods at the edge of town, and before long Nate and Tabitha will be forced to confront a terrifying foe, and uncover the truth about the Lost Boy.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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