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Drawing a Blank: Or How I Tried to Solve a Mystery, End a Feud, and Land the Girl of My Dreams

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I don't know how this happened

One day I'm snug in my loner existence at Carnegie Mansion School, and the next I'm tramping through the Scottish wilderness looking for my dad. Who's been kidnapped. Because of a feud that started in medieval times. Or something. Suffice it to say, I never paid too much attention because I thought the whole thing was some twisted figment of my dad's imagination.

Now my only company is a wannabe cop who just might...

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Overview

I don't know how this happened

One day I'm snug in my loner existence at Carnegie Mansion School, and the next I'm tramping through the Scottish wilderness looking for my dad. Who's been kidnapped. Because of a feud that started in medieval times. Or something. Suffice it to say, I never paid too much attention because I thought the whole thing was some twisted figment of my dad's imagination.

Now my only company is a wannabe cop who just might be my superhero dream girl. And if I don't deliver some piece of mysterious "proof" to the kidnappers, my dad is toast. I've got my fair share of issues with my dad, but I don't really want to see him burned to a crisp.

Anyway, you in?

This is not the first time I've been wrong about something.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Carlton Dunne IV, 16, is rich in material wealth, poor in social skills. The subtitle-"Or How I Tried to Solve a Mystery, End a Feud, and Land the Girl of My Dreams"-hints at how events will unfold. With Carlton's mother long dead, his wealthy father has shipped him from Manhattan to a Connecticut boarding school, where Carlton retreats into self-acknowledged misanthropy, living vicariously through Signy the Superbad, a comic strip chronicling the adventures of a buxom crime fighter that he pens for a local newspaper. His life-spent hunched over his sketch pad-is upended when an evil Scottish rival kidnaps his father and Carlton must rescue him. At the airport, a gorgeous female stranger saves Carlton from becoming roadkill; her moxie parallels the derring-do of Carlton's comic super-heroine. Of all the implausibilities in this entertaining, if overlong farce, the most unbelievable aspect might be that an aspiring graphic novelist like Carlton would write 300-plus pages of text. More of Ristow's pen-and-ink drawings, interspersed irregularly throughout the narrative, might have helped the pacing, which sags at times. Ristow's panels could also have served to carry the plot points instead of simply mirroring the events of the narrative. That said, the short chapters, abundant one-liners and Carlton's engaging, self-deprecating narration make this a fun, light read. Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA
Carlton Dunne IV is an aspiring graphic artist whose rich fantasy life helps him to endure the New York City boarding school where his distracted father has parked him. During class, Carlton fills his notebooks with illustrated exploits of Signe the Superbad, a sword-wielding warrior princess in kilt and halter-top. Suddenly Carlton's routines are disrupted by a real-life adventure. His father has disappeared, allegedly kidnapped by a hereditary enemy from the remote Orkney Islands off Scotland's northern coast. Carlton must fly to Scotland and ransom his father by finding an ancient heirloom, and then surrendering it to the kidnappers. Naturally he soon runs into an attractive young woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the imaginary Signe. Ehrenhaft, author of Tell it to Naomi (Delacorte, 2004/VOYA August 2004), and graphic artist Ristow have great fun with this entertaining illustrated novel. Text and graphics, reality and fantasy are playfully intertwined. The more Carlton tries to escape reality by retreating into his imaginative drawings, the more exciting his actual life becomes. A dozen two-page panels of Carlton's Signe cartoons are spaced throughout the novel, with the cartoon story and Carlton's story gradually merging, so that the final panel concludes both narratives. Boarding school life and rustic Scotland are both amusingly evoked. The story line suffers from being manipulated to interact with the graphic fantasy. But it is all in fun, and the short chapters, lively cartoons, and humorous adventure make it a great choice for graphic novel enthusiasts and reluctant readers. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P M J S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; MiddleSchool, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, HarperCollins, 336p.; Illus., and PLB Ages 11 to 18.
—Walter Hogan
Children's Literature - Naomi Milliner
Carlton Dunne IV, seventeen-year-old self-proclaimed misanthrope and secret graphic novelist, is about to embark on a quest worthy of his own heroine, Signy the Superbad. Carlton's fearful, guilt-ridden existence spins out of control when his estranged father calls from Scotland. It seems Carlton III's endless rantings about a centuries-old feud between his ancestors and the Clan Forba were, in fact, grounded in reality. So, casting aside his tendency to avoid... pretty much everything, Carlton musters his courage and flies to Scotland. Upon his arrival, a mysterious black van practically runs him over; luckily, a pretty Scot named Aileen intervenes and saves his life. An aspiring policewoman, Aileen takes Carlton under her wing, determined to help him find and save his father. As they share misadventures, close calls, and confidences, for the first time in his life Carlton finds himself sketching to embrace reality, rather than escape it. When they break into the kidnapper's home, Carlton is shocked to see his own face staring out from numerous photos covering the walls. After escaping from the house, Carlton pieces together some clues and discovers a valuable, sought-after dagger the Clan Forba wants. He then discovers that Aileen is a member of that clan; specifically, the kidnapper's daughter. Although this "twist" was predictable early on, Ehrenhaft's humor is strong and his characters likeable. The graphic cartoons complement the story and are a cute gimmick to get inside Carlton's head. All in all, a convoluted but entertaining read.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Once again, Ehrenhaft has created a sympathetic and hapless teen antihero who manages to retain his sense of humor even when the chips are way, way down. In this outing, the plotline zigzags from a posh New England boarding school to the site of Carlton Dunne's father's kidnapping in Manhattan to a rescue mission undertaken in rural Scotland. The teen deals with a publisher who doesn't know that his hired talent is a boy rather than the man Carlton Dunne III; with nasty dorm mates who break all his personal stuff; and with a mystery girl who seems to be helping him in his Scottish quest to recover the dad he isn't sure he likes one bit. The girl, not surprisingly, isn't as simple and sweet as she seems at first blush. Carlton's parallel black-and-white comics (informed by his favorite childhood book of Nordic legends) do a clever job of echoing the story with its cast of superhero-and superantihero-antics. A fair amount of drinking in the Scottish countryside both advances the plot and makes the characters seem all the more real for their grittiness. Footnotes abound, and provide their own diminutive jokes as well as useful explanations of such traditions as the ancient game of ba'. Fluffy, but with that spicy edge of a deep-thinking outsider.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Seventeen-year-old textbook geek Carlton Dunne IV has zero game and funnels his inner teenage male mojo into a comic strip called Signy the Superbad, which chronicles the smashes and crashes of a buxom blonde Scottish crime-fighting vixen. When his dad is kidnapped by an evil Scottish rogue, Carlton jets off to Scotland to rescue him. Along the way he meets Aileen, an alluring, beer-guzzling, rough-and-tumble gal who drags him headfirst into danger, not unlike his comic super-heroine. As per usual, Ehrenhaft's dead-on characterizations and genuine teen dialogue will hook readers of all ages. Unfortunately this latest takes several dozen pages to get moving, and even then it still sputters and fights to gain momentum. Perhaps most distracting is the many extraneous footnotes that litter the bottom of the pages. Biston's pen-and-ink drawings, however, amplify Carlton's clever sense of humor and mirror his up-and-down escapades with Aileen. Truthfully, all Ehrenhaft really needs to succeed is to infuse the same wry, self-deprecating wit and spontaneity into his plotting that he so thoughtfully invokes in his characters. (Fiction. YA)
Booklist
“Very engaging, highly entertaining, and sometimes enlightening. A fresh, effervescent combination of mystery, adventure, and teen angst.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Very engaging, highly entertaining, and sometimes enlightening. A fresh, effervescent combination of mystery, adventure, and teen angst.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060752545
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/30/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Ehrenhaft

Daniel Ehrenhaft is the author of many books for teens, including the Edgar Award-winning Wessex Papers (under the pseudonym Daniel Parker), Dirty Laundry, and Drawing a Blank.

Author Daniel Ehrenhaft met illustrator Trevor Ristow at Columbia University in the early 1990s. There they founded a subversive guerrilla film and art collective known cryptically as E.N.R. They can now be found in New York City, where they continue to foment artistic revolution and creative mayhem whenever possible.

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Read an Excerpt

Drawing a Blank

Or How I Tried to Solve a Mystery, End a Feud, and Land the Girl of My Dreams
By Daniel Ehrenhaft

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Daniel Ehrenhaft
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060752521

Chapter One

The Hobgoblins
of Guilt and Fear

"The key to telling an epic tale," my creative writing teacher announced on the very first day of fall semester, "is to treat your opening line like a prison break: You bust out in one bold move, and you never look back -- not unless you're gonna kill somebody or take 'em with you. Dig?"

Yikes, I thought.

This was important, dramatic stuff. It should have kept me engrossed for hours on end, or at least until the end of the period. Unfortunately, it just wound up as further proof of a certain crucial failing of mine: Copying it down word for word represented the sum total of all the notes I took the first week of fifth form1 year -- in any class, biology and precalculus included.

I have a little trouble listening.

Actually, I have a little trouble with a lot of things, but listening is definitely way up there. There's no excuse, either. Not a decent one, anyway. Not like I couldn't listen because over the summer a band of vicious hobgoblins invaded, and they chewed off my ears in an orgiastic frenzy of flesh eating so I wentdeaf, yet ultimately I prevailed . . . no, nothing like that. And I'd wanted to listen. Right before I moved back to campus, I'd even purchased six new Mead brand 5-Subject Organizers complete with, as advertised:

  • Storage pockets!

  • Durable covers!

  • Perforated pages that tear out to full-size 8 1/2 x 11 -inch sheets!

The problem was that these notebooks were geared toward kids who, in fact, took notes. They were geared toward the Ivy League bound. Not toward "degenerate comic-book addicts who should take some [#@%&*] responsibility for the money it costs to send a seventeen-year-old to the most expensive [#@%&*] boarding school in the country." (Or something along these lines. I'm paraphrasing my dad.)

I'd planned to change, though.

The smell of the new notebooks alone would be enough to scare me into taking some responsibility. Yes, that antiseptic, papery stink . . . that would transform me into a real student, someone who deserved six separate Mead brand 5-Subject Organizers. I was counting on that stink. I was counting on those pristine college-ruled pages, too, just begging to be filled with schoolwork and nothing else. I'd gone so far as to label each section: PRECALCULUS. BIOLOGY. CREATIVE WRITING. And underneath the labels: PROPERTY OF CARLTON DUNNE IV. I'd used all caps, the way a graffiti artist or anonymous stalker might, praying that the class names would inspire guilt and fear every time I saw them, especially above my name.

They didn't.

Well, okay, they did -- pretty much everything around me inspired guilt and fear on some level -- but the labels weren't quite enough.

As usual, by the end of the first week, all my notebooks were full of wacked-out sketches: grotesque villains and alien landscapes, terrible creatures and accursed artifacts. And, as usual, I'd hardly heard a word any of my teachers had said.

Continues...


Excerpted from Drawing a Blank by Daniel Ehrenhaft Copyright © 2006 by Daniel Ehrenhaft. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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