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A City of Names
     

A City of Names

by Kevin Brockmeier
 

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
An order-fulfillment snafu affords the offbeat premise for this children's book debut. When fifth-grader Howie Quackenbush orders 101 Pickle Jokes from his school book club, he instead receives Secret Guide to North Mellwood. The book opens up into a map identifying the "true names" of various buildings and sites in Howie's hometown, and identifies five "portals" through which the initiated can travel to other Mellwood locations. Conveniently, one of the portals a bronze statue of Larry Boone, allegedly a Revolutionary War hero is located in front of the boy's school. Howie's second attempt at ordering the joke book brings an addendum to the secret guide, providing access to some hidden underground spots. In the conclusion, Howie enters the underground Hall of Babies, where he meets his unborn sister and learns her true name; when his mother gives birth the following day, Howie ends months of debate by naming the baby. Unfortunately, digressions and dull dialogue may discourage readers, and while the contrivances are clever, the author fails to use them to exciting or meaningful effect. Ages 8-12. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Ten-year-old Howie Quackenbush understood the importance of name�he was kidded about his constantly. His friend, Kevin Bugg, was in the same boat. With his mom expecting a baby within the month, names were a constant topic at his house. That was normal. What was not normal was "The Secret Guide to North Mellwood" that he received when he clearly put "101 Pickle Jokes" on his school book-order form. According to this guide, he could go to several portals in town and be transported to any location on the map, as long as he uttered its true name, which was provided. It really worked and was a lot of fun. Things got really weird when he met the book's author, heard his thoughts on true verses and false names, and learned that he received the book because there was a very special place he needed to visit soon, the Hall of Babies. Engaging fantasy at its best. 2002, Viking,
— Barbara Kennedy
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6 Fifth-grader Howie is in for a surprise when he opens his classroom book order. Instead of 101 Pickle Jokes, he gets a mysterious book, Secret Guide to North Mellwood, which is actually a foldout map of his hometown showing all the buildings labeled with strange names. A note explains that the guide can be used as a transportation device. It is possible to travel directly to any place on the map merely by reciting its "true name." While the premise has potential, the author doesn't carry it off successfully. Story elements are introduced but not resolved and plot threads are left dangling everywhere. The "true names" on the map are intriguing, but the unusual words don't always relate to the locations they represent. The final third of the story is positively surreal. Howie and his two best friends make brief visits to a series of weird spots beneath the city including a Kafkaesque place full of hungry monkeys and an eerie, fog-filled holding room for ghostly lost pets. They encounter the strange, unsettling inventor of the map system in his underground hideaway. Finally, Howie meets and talks to his own unborn sister in an odd, womblike room where naked babies sit around in soft chairs with their umbilical cords stretching up to disappear through the walls. Steer science-fiction fans to Gene DeWeese and Bruce Coville instead. -Elaine E. Knight, Lincoln Elementary Schools, IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fifth-grader discovers that there's far more to his small town than meets the eye in this offbeat children's debut. When Howie's school book club order arrives, instead of 101 Pickle Jokes, he gets The Secret Guide To North Mellwood-a fold-out map with recognizable buildings bearing strange labels: his home, for instance, is "Guddle," the local video parlor, "Hurdy-Gurdy." According to the instructions, all he has to do is rap on the eponymous statue outside Larry Boone Elementary School, and speak this "true name" to be instantly teleported there. To his delight, it works, though each trip produces a rotten-egg smell as a side effect; in no time, he and friends Kevin and Casey are zipping off to the arcade at night to rack up humongous scores, and the like. Then the next book order brings an Addendum, a plastic overlay with far more intriguing destinations, including an underwater chamber full of babies where Howie has a conversation with his about-to-be-born little sister, and the subterranean digs of Larry Boone himself, a half-legendary figure in town history who not only admits inventing the transportation system, but demonstrates that he knows-well, everything about everybody. Brockmeier never troubles to explain any of this, but to keep it all from getting entirely too strange, he folds in a bully, a budding romance, and other conventions. The result is a giddy but enjoyable ride with a whiff of mystery (as well as sulfur) that may leave readers regarding their own supposedly ordinary neighborhoods with new eyes. (Fiction. 10-12)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670035656
Publisher:
Viking
Publication date:
06/01/2002
Pages:
128
Product dimensions:
5.74(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.78(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Kevin Brockmeier is the author of the novels The View from the Seventh Layer, The Brief History of the Dead, The Truth About CeliaThings That Fall from the Sky, and two children's novels. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, McSweeney's, The Oxford American, The Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Stories and Granta's Best of Young American Novelists, among other publications. He has taught at the Iowa Writer's Workshop and lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.

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