The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs

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On an unseasonably warm Easter Sunday, a young girl named Ivy discovers a chilling secret in the basement of the Rumbaugh pharmacy across the street from the hotel where she lives with her mother. The discovery reveals a disturbing side to the eccentric lives of family friends Abner and Adolph Rumbaugh, known throughout their small western Pennsylvania town simply as the Twins. It seems that Ab and Dolph have been compelled by a powerful mutual love for their deceased mother to do something extraordinary, ...
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The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs

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On an unseasonably warm Easter Sunday, a young girl named Ivy discovers a chilling secret in the basement of the Rumbaugh pharmacy across the street from the hotel where she lives with her mother. The discovery reveals a disturbing side to the eccentric lives of family friends Abner and Adolph Rumbaugh, known throughout their small western Pennsylvania town simply as the Twins. It seems that Ab and Dolph have been compelled by a powerful mutual love for their deceased mother to do something extraordinary, something that in its own twisted way bridges the gap between the living and the dead. Immediately, Ivy’s discovery provokes the revelation of a Rumbaugh family curse, a curse that, as Ivy will learn over the coming years, holds a strange power over herself and her own mother.

In his third book for young adults, Jack Gantos has scripted a completely original drama. With gothic flavor and black humor, he depicts a group of people bound together by love, compulsion...and a passion for taxidermy.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With a steady youthful voice, Datz gives an appropriately creepy and compelling edge to Gantos's strange, darkly comic novel of disturbing small-town goings-on. Upon her 16th birthday, narrator Ivy learns from her mother that one of the elderly identical twins either Adolph or Abner Rumbaugh, who run the local pharmacy is her biological father. She also learns that she may have inherited the Rumbaugh family curse: harboring freakishly obsessive love for one's mother. Will Ivy's future be determined by twisted DNA? Mystery, gossip, taxidermy (of the animal and human variety), horror, genetic experimentation and hints of incest are all themes that waft through this tale. Though the subject matter isn't for everyone, teens who take their humor black, and who may be discovering gothic literature or making forays into goth culture, are likely fans for this solidly produced recording. Ages 12-up. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Gantos turns toward the gothic in his newest novel, the story of Ivy Spirco, who throughout her life, has remained achingly devoted to her mother and with whom she has shared an uneasy relationship with their small town's aging, mysterious, identical twin pharmacists, the Rumbaughs. As a six-year-old girl, Ivy makes a startling discovery in the twins' basement: The Rumbaughs have stuffed and preserved their beloved dead mother's body. Ivy is intrigued and repelled by this discovery, and when her mother later reveals that Ivy's absent and "unknown" father is one of the twins (even her mother is unsure which), Ivy is convinced that the loyalty and love she feels for her own mother is the product of a genetic curse. Gantos's prose represents a departure from his earlier Jack Henry novels, and although reflective, remains slightly distant in tone, more closely resembling the work of M. E. Kerr than Lemony Snicket. The novel's central conflict appears to be a stylized nature-versus-nurture debate, but the point is not really driven home in an effectively chilling manner. As Ivy attempts to rid herself of the Rumbaugh family's curse of "mother love," she begins a unique hobby under the twins' tutelage: taxidermy. From the time young Ivy discovers the preserved Mrs. Rumbaugh, through her amateur attempts to stuff her first squirrel, to her entry in various local taxidermy competitions, the novel's end can be predicted. The "stuffed" human and the automaton are established tropes of the gothic; here, however, the figures' presences are almost predictable. Gantos' novel is topically creepy; however, a better stylistic treatment of the gothic can be found in Phillip Pullman's Clockwork (Scholastic,1998/VOYA December 1998). VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Farrar Straus Giroux, 192p., $17. Ages 12 to 18.
—Amy S. Pattee
Children's Literature
Growing up, Ivy tried to appear like an average girl. Deep down, however, she knew she was different. She could not explain why she was drawn to the pharmacy that was owned and operated by the elderly Rumbaugh twins. Ivy also did not understand why she felt a love for her mother that was so fierce it overwhelmed her. Ivy's mother feared that her daughter had the "love curse." On her sixteenth birthday, Ivy learned about the man who impregnated her mother. Ivy did not want to hear the story yet she was not completely surprised to learn that one of the Rumbaugh twins was her father. Ivy shared many commonalities with them, including their interest in taxidermy and their undying devotion to their own mother. Ivy tries to fight the curse and to deny her birthright, but the Rumbaugh twins assure her that her legacy is inherited. In the end, Ivy accepts her fate and uses her talents for taxidermy to forever preserve her own motherly love. This bizarre and unusual story will keep readers on the edge of their seat. Even odder than the character's actions is the logic that can be found in their reasoning. Jack Gantos is the author of many popular children's books including Joey Pigza Loses Control. 2006, Farrar Straus and Giroux, Ages 12 up.
—Denise Daley
KLIATT - Myrna Marler
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, May 2006: Young Ivy, the protagonist and narrator, is part of a lineage of children who obsessively love their mothers, and since they have taxidermy skills … well, the results are inevitable. Ivy goes through her teenage years in stages of shock and awe and finally acceptance of this unique family practice as her own beloved mother dies. The story is apparently not to be taken literally. Gantos may be questioning funeral customs. After all, is it more bizarre to put makeup on a corpse and display it than to stuff the beloved one and keep her around for one-sided conversations? Another possible theme might be a twist on the story of the son saving the father. In Gantos's take, the sons obsessively love the mother but the mother wants to prevent her sons from reproducing so as to end the "love curse of the Rumbaughs." She is, however, unsuccessful. Although beautifully, almost lyrically written, the story is unappealing since it deals with societal misfits who do weird things for bizarre reasons. Perhaps morbid teenagers will find the black humor fun, or possibly the story could spark a good classroom discussion on societal mores. Reviewer: Myrna Marler
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-In this bizarre tale entrenched in genetics and human history, familial love is unabashedly and horrifically skewed, twisted, and swathed, reminiscent of the works of Poe, Shelley, and Hawthorne. Readers are introduced to the young woman narrator when she is seven, trapped in a small town and a victim of a family's dark legacy: a maternal obsession so extreme that it preys upon the minds of its maligned descendants, forcing them to pursue any means necessary to keep their mothers with them always. Ivy and her devout mother live across the street from a pair of reclusive, elderly twin brothers who run the pharmacy. Her mother used to work for the Rumbaughs, and, over the years, Ivy comes to understand her connection to the eccentric men, their deep bond with their now-deceased mother, and their fascination with the art of taxidermy, which they share with her. Soon Ivy finds herself engrossed in embalming squirrels, kittens, chickens, and whatever else she can get her hands on. They become her tools and totems to assuage her maternal-loss anxieties. Readers can only fumble and squirm through her distorted yet straightforwardly told horror story with a combination of shock, disbelief, and dread of what no doubt will come. Gantos has written an eerie, nearly perverse gothic tale of love and devotion gone completely and frighteningly haywire. This thought-provoking story about free will and the arguments of nature and nurture will definitely stick with readers, no matter how hard they try to forget it.-Hillias J. Martin, New York Public Library Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
What happens when you die? Do you molder in the grave, return zombie-like or completely healed, or go to heaven and recline on the clouds? Your return is of a different sort if you're the mother of 71-year-old emotionally stunted twin taxidermists suffering from the family curse of obsessive mother love. And young Ivy Spirco's unsettling discovery in the basement of the pharmacy impels her to ponder these issues of life and death and shakes her own obsessive "Mom and mini-Mom" relationship. Always adept at creating exuberant, larger-than-life characters, Gantos here creates two who are even larger than death, in a psychological horror story of the highest order. Akin to Frankenstein, Dracula and Poe's stories in theme, tone and voice, this offering explores such philosophical issues as nature versus nurture, free will and predetermination, mortality immortality and rebirth, in a totally engaging, intelligently written work guaranteed to either entrance or repel readers. Like Mrs. Rumbaugh's body, this will linger in one's darkest corners. A good match with M.T. Anderson's Feed (2002) and Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion (2002). (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
“A totally engaging, intelligently written work . . . this one will linger in one’s darkest corners.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“This offbeat novel, reflecting elements of Psycho and Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, draws readers into a macabre world where taboos are lifted and unconventional desires unleashed.”—Publishers Weekly

“A shocking, darkly comic tale.”—Booklist, Boxed Review

“Eerie. This thought-provoking story about free will and the arguments of nature and nurture will definitely stick with readers.”—School Library Journal

“Few other books offer such a combination of stylization verging on the comic and a true fascination with the Gothic’s exploration of human minds.”—Chicago Tribune

“The wonderful and compelling strangeness will . . . draw many readers, especially fans of silver-screen or classic literary Gothic.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Compelling.”—The Horn Book Magazine

“You know where The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos is heading, even as you can’t quite believe it. . . . Possibly the most oddball children’s book ever written and certainly one of the cleverest.”—The Telegraph (UK)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374336905
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/18/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 1020L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.49 (w) x 7.91 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jack Gantos has written books for people of all ages, from picture books and middle-grade fiction to novels for young adults and adults. His works include Hole in My Life, a memoir that won the Michael L. Printz and Robert F. Sibert Honors, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, a National Book Award Finalist, Joey Pigza Loses Control, a Newbery Honor book, and Dead End in Norvelt, winner of the Newbery Medal and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.

Jack was raised in Norvelt, Pennsylvania, and when he was seven, his family moved to Barbados. He attended British schools, where there was much emphasis on reading and writing, and teachers made learning a lot of fun. When the family moved to south Florida, he found his new classmates uninterested in their studies, and his teachers spent most of their time disciplining students. Jack retreated to an abandoned bookmobile (three flat tires and empty of books) parked out behind the sandy ball field, and read for most of the day. The seeds for Jack’s writing career were planted in sixth grade, when he read his sister’s diary and decided he could write better than she could. He begged his mother for a diary and began to collect anecdotes he overheard at school, mostly from standing outside the teachers’ lounge and listening to their lunchtime conversations. Later, he incorporated many of these anecdotes into stories.

While in college, he and an illustrator friend, Nicole Rubel, began working on picture books. After a series of well-deserved rejections, they published their first book, Rotten Ralph, in 1976. It was a success and the beginning of Jack’s career as a professional writer. Jack continued to write children’s books and began to teach courses in children’s book writing and children’s literature. He developed the master’s degree program in children’s book writing at Emerson College and the Vermont College M.F.A. program for children’s book writers. He now devotes his time to writing books and educational speaking. He lives with his family in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs

By Gantos, Jack

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Copyright © 2006 Gantos, Jack
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0374336903

From The Love Curse of
the Rumbaughs
Yes, it had been surprising to discover Mrs. Rumbaugh stuffed
like a hibernating bear, and although she was spooky, she only
really terrified me because she reminded me of my mother's
mortality, and in some penetrating way I must have been
marked with the knowledge that Ab and Dolph loved their
mother as much as I loved mine and that they were driven to
preserve her in whatever form they could. In an unspoken way
I accepted what they did, and why, and it seemed right - for
them and for me. I looked up at my mother and said, "Don't
worry. Someday I'll do the same to you, too."
She blanched, and before she realized she had said it she
uttered, "Oh, my God, you have the love curse of the -" Then
she held her hand over her mouth and stepped away, but it was
too late. I had heard her, and somehow I knew I was cursed
with loving my mother too much.
"What curse?" I asked innocently.


Excerpted from The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Gantos, JackCopyright © 2006 by Gantos, Jack. 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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2014


    A good story. Interesting characters, and I really wanted to know what happened if the curse continues.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 16, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Tough Love

    Really, stuffing your mother like a specimen in a taxidermist's shop so you can always keep her with you? Have we run out of things to write about? Put this one in the pile of books you use to prop up the leg of the table so it won't wobble.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    I read a few books a week, so when I say it was one of the oddes

    I read a few books a week, so when I say it was one of the oddest things I've ever read that's saying something!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2008

    a REALLY strange read!!

    I actually picked this book up because of its cover. It looked slightly gothic...and oh boy was I right! Tinged with dark humor, an obsession for taxidermy, and a love curse, this is an exceptional read. I had to re-read some parts, just to make sure that I understood but, i would definitely reccomend it to anyone who likes slightly creepy books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2007


    The Love Curse of the Rumbaugh¿s by Jack Gantos was one of the strangest books I have ever read. The plot consisted of strange, inseparable twins, a dead, taxidermed mother, a daughter, who was obsessed with her mother, and a love curse. This love curse ran through the Rumbaughs family. It caused the sons in the family to have an unhealthy love for their mothers. The Twins, Adolf and Ab, had this curse, and somehow, their neighbor Ivy had it also 'which we find out why towards the middle of the book'. The book started off with Ivy finding the Twins dead mother, who had been dead for years, preserved in the Twins basement. Ivy thought nothing of it. She thought it was natural for someone to love their mother enough to do that. The plot developed from here. We learned more about the Rumbaughs, the love curse, and how Ivy gained such a love for her mother. The book goes into great and accurate detail of Eugenics and genetic testing. It also has a very Alfred Hitchcock 'Psycho' like feel to it with the dead mother and the taxidermy obsession. Overall, it was such a strange read. Between reading Ivy¿s thoughts, to the descriptions of the Twins and their dead mother, I had to read some things over again to make sure I read it correctly. The ending in particular is something that¿s totally unexpected. However, as strange as it was, it¿s still a great and fun book to read. I recommend it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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