Mister Boots: A Fantasy Novel

Overview

Bobby Lassiter has some important secrets—but it's not as if anyone'spaying attention. It's the middle of the Depression, and while Bobby's mother and older sister knit all day to make money, Bobby explores the California desert around their home. That's how Bobby finds Boots. He's under their one halfdead tree, half-dead himself. Right away he too is a secret—a secret to be fed and clothed and taken care of, and even more of a secret because of what he can do. Sometimes Boots is a man. Sometimes he's (really, ...
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Overview

Bobby Lassiter has some important secrets—but it's not as if anyone'spaying attention. It's the middle of the Depression, and while Bobby's mother and older sister knit all day to make money, Bobby explores the California desert around their home. That's how Bobby finds Boots. He's under their one halfdead tree, half-dead himself. Right away he too is a secret—a secret to be fed and clothed and taken care of, and even more of a secret because of what he can do. Sometimes Boots is a man. Sometimes he's (really, truly) a horse. He and Bobby both know something about magic—and readers will, too, after reading the acclaimed Carol Emshwiller's first novel for Viking.
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Editorial Reviews

VOYA
Ten-year-old Bobby-who often forgets that she is not really a boy-lives with her mother and sister, Jocelyn, in 1920s California. While roaming the countryside one night, Bobby befriends a strange man who is actually a horse: Mr. Boots. After Bobby's mother dies, Boots-who was injured fetching the doctor-moves in, and he and Jocelyn fall in love. When the girls' abusive, itinerant-magician father arrives to take his supposed "son" to carry on his act, Jocelyn and Boots accompany them. They live as wandering show people, with Bobby reluctantly concealing her gender even through brutal whippings and a second arm-breaking. Only when a final tragedy with Boots drives Bobby's father away-perhaps forever-can Bobby finally admit who she really is. This story makes for an odd book. The meager scene-setting all but omits location and era, and a lack of transitional passages combined with stilted (or stylized) writing renders the narrative jerky and uneven. Reinforcing the unevenness are an ambiguously focused plot and intriguingly multifaceted characters with only vague purposes. Boots is a particular enigma. He seems a metaphor for Bobby and her feelings about gender and abuse, but would any teens pick that up? Also disconcerting are sexual details inappropriate for readers of Bobby's age. This book hints at a powerful story lurking beneath the surface-about gender, about perception, about how we allow people to treat us-but unfortunately, the author could not quite focus it. For a superior horse-man fantasy, direct high schoolers to R. A. MacAvoy's The Grey Horse (Bantam, 1987/VOYA October 1987). VOYA CODES: 2Q 2P J (Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q; For the YAwith a special interest in the subject; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2005, Viking, 192p., Ages 12 to 15.
—Rebecca C. Moore
Children's Literature
Life is full of secrets as 10-year-old Bobby Lassiter grows up in rural Depression-era California where her mother and older sister, Jocelyn, knit to make a living. Almost everyone thinks Bobby is a boy, including the abusive father who left when she was younger. While riding horseback in the desert, Bobby discovers a naked man, Mr. Boots, who turns out to be a magical figure, sometimes a man, sometimes a horse. Following her mother's death, Bobby's errant magician father reappears, and they all—including Mr. Boots—set off to join a traveling show. Bobby meets a friend, Rosie, and a red-headed woman called Aunt Tilly—who says she has been married to their father for twenty-five years—joins the group. Events turn tragic when Bobby tries to keep her father from attacking Mr. Boots by revealing once and for all that she is a girl. Her father kicks her into a fire, and Mr. Boots changes into a horse to save her. Bobby's father kills Mr. Boots and disappears. Despite grim scenes of abuse, the book concludes on a hopeful note, as Bobby, back home, acknowledges herself as a girl and attends school with Rosie. Aunt Tilly lives with them, and Jocelyn has a baby—Mr. Boots' daughter—who has inherited his magical gift. The author has published award-winning books, including The Start of the End of It All, which won the World Fantasy Award, and The Mount, a Nebula Award Finalist. 2005, Viking, Ages 12 up.
—Valerie O. Patterson
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-This unusual novel features a vividly realized first-person narrator and a story that mixes stark realism with a touch of magic. As the Depression looms, 10-year-old Roberta and her older sister struggle after the sudden death of their mother. When their long-gone father reappears looking for money, they join him as he tours southern California giving magic shows. The father, a menacing, yet magnetic figure to Bobby, believes that she is a boy, and she takes pains to keep that secret. He also lacks the full truth about Mister Boots, the odd young man who travels with them: he used to be a horse, and changes from human to animal form on occasion. These intriguing threads come together in complex ways that emerge smoothly and sometimes unexpectedly. Bobby is an engaging character from the start, full of impulses both risky and magnanimous, and frustrated by her own lack of knowledge and power. None of her relationships is simple and she learns more about herself and the people close to her as their fortunes rise and fall. Moments of light humor are tempered by abrupt intrusions of violence into the child's tenuous world, as she is beaten by her father and sexually assaulted by a stranger. The outlook is bleak at times, but Roberta's determination and confidence infuse the conclusion with hope. This is a hard book to pigeonhole, and it merits an extra push to find readers who will appreciate the richly imaginative plot and the unique and memorable protagonist.-Steven Engelfried, Beaverton City Library, OR Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A spare, graceful Depression-era story tells of a ten-year-old in the desert befriending a man who's also a horse. Bobby lives with her mother and older sister, who sell homemade knitting to pay for mealtime beans. Under a tree, Bobby meets Mister Boots, a thin, bedraggled man who's spent most of his life as a horse and occasionally changes back. When Mother dies, older sister Jocelyn and Mister Boots fall in love. The sudden reappearance of their violent father (Bobby's covered with scars from him) brings a simmering danger. The father takes Bobby on the road with his magic show because he thinks (and has thought for ten years) that Bobby's a boy. Jocelyn and Mister Boots go along to keep an eye out. Bobby's entranced by the magic show, but the father's volatility erupts and nothing is safe. Emshwiller writes everything with care and truth, from Bobby's gender musings to the nature of horses. Plainspoken and quietly mystical. (Fantasy. 9-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670059683
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 7/21/2005
  • Pages: 224
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.77 (d)

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