The Undrowned Child

The Undrowned Child

5.0 5
by Michelle Lovric

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Teodora has always longed to visit Venice, and at last she has her chance. But strange and sinister things are afoot in the beautiful floating city. Teo is quickly subsumed into a secret world in which salty-tongued mermaids run subversive printing presses, ghosts good and bad patrol the streets, statues speak, rats read, and librarians fluidly turn into cats. And…  See more details below


Teodora has always longed to visit Venice, and at last she has her chance. But strange and sinister things are afoot in the beautiful floating city. Teo is quickly subsumed into a secret world in which salty-tongued mermaids run subversive printing presses, ghosts good and bad patrol the streets, statues speak, rats read, and librarians fluidly turn into cats. And where a book, The Key to the Secret City, leads Teo straight into the heart of the danger that threatens to destroy the city to which she feels she belongs. An ancient proverb seems to unite Teo with a Venetian boy, Renzo, and with the Traitor who has returned from the dark past to wreak revenge. . . . But who is the Undrowned Child destined to save Venice?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Starred Review, School Library Journal, August 2011:
"Fantasy and historical fiction blend meticulously in this richly imaginative novel...The combination of imagination, thorough research, and evocative prose renders this an exceptional read that will not relinquish readers from its grasp. Happily, a sequel is already planned. This is Lovric’s first contribution to literature for the young, and it is a gem."
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
Here's a book that will lure fans of Jo Rowlings and Eva Ibbotson. It is a goose-bumpy thriller laced with the true history of the ancient city of Venice. Author Lovric never talks down to the audience, but has enough slashing and bleeding to draw in the most gore-hungry reader. The heroine of the book, Teo, is an eleven year old Neopolitano who is inexplicably drawn to the city of Venice. Her adoptive parents, rational scientists, do not understand their daughter's unquenchable need to visit the water-logged city, but give in to the trip when their work takes them to a Venetian conference. In Venice, Teo visits a bookstore where she is clunked on the head by a particularly lively book, The Key to the Secret City. The book leads her to mermaids who harbor the secret of Teo's biological parents at the hand of the monstrous Bajamonte Tiepolo. As is prophesied, Teo meets Renzo, a studious boy, and with the help of the mermaids' leader, Lussa, the pair embarks on a crusade to save the city from ghostly Tiepolo's evil vendetta. This lively, fat, fantasy is a perfect read-alike for Harry Potter fans who will appreciate the gender reversal of a female anointed one and a male sidekick. There are two small flaws: Teo (who has a gift for literally reading peoples' minds in script above their heads), talks of learning to speak the Venetian dialect, but the mermaids and other lower class characters seem to be speaking with a Cockney accent. Also, reference is made to Venice, California, when this book takes place in 1899, six years before the founding of Venice-on-the-Beach. Glitches aside, this fantasy will be an easy hand-sell to young fantasy adventure readers. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
Kirkus Reviews

Teodora, a bookish girl with a complex destiny, joins with Renzo, a Venetian boy, to battle the city's impending destruction.

In 1899, Teo and her adoptive, scientist parents travel from Naples to Venice for a conference focused on the city's shockingly dire problems. Rapidly heating water has brought sharks to the lagoon; wells are bursting, and children are dying of a hushed-up plague. Teo has always felt powerfully drawn to Venice. When a mysterious tome,The Key to the Secret City, clocks her in a bookshop, she enters a parallel Venice, "between the linings." There, the evil exile Bajamonte Tiepolo is rematerializing, assembling a blood-lusting army of mutilated soldiers to avenge the city that destroyed them. With theKeytheir helpfully morphing guidebook, Teo and Renzo assist a community of protective mermaids and "The Gray Lady," a librarian-turned–spell-tattooed cat, racing against Tiepolo's dark triumph. Thickly plotted and encrusted with historical characters and fantastic elements (invisibility, an almanac of spells, transmogrifying statuary), Venetian transplant Lovric's first effort for children is one grisly, bristling ride. A map, historical notes and a section entitled "What is true, and what's made up?" shed light on the complicated allegory, but fantasy-devouring kids might well prefer the fast-paced horror to the historicity.

A teeming, action-packed fantasy liberally laced with Venetian history, for strong readers of both sexes; a sequel awaits.(Fantasy. 11-14)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


A Startling Afternoon

June 1, 1899

The blow came without warning and from nowhere. Just one second before, Teodora had been happily browsing in an old-fashioned Venetian bookshop, a dim, crumbling building that spilled out onto a square with a canal at one side. This was no ordinary bookshop. For a start, it was lit only by whispering gas-lamps and yellowy candle-stumps. A large brass mortar-and-pestle stood on the dusty counter instead of a till. There were no piles of famous poets, or detective stories or fat novels for ladies. In fact, there was just one battered copy each of all manner of interesting books like Mermaids I Have Known by Professor Marìn. And The Best Ways With Wayward Ghosts, by “One Who Consorts with Them.”

And the bookshop was empty of other customers apart from one fair-haired boy no older than Teo herself. He was elegantly dressed with a linen waistcoat, spotless boots and a cap at a rakish angle. He stood at a lectern, reading The Rise and Fall of the Venetian Empire, which was as big as a safe and had no pictures at all. Occasionally he looked up to give Teo a princely, disapproving stare.

For Teodora was not just gazing but sniffing at the tall shelves. Those shelves were like coral reefs, looming far above her head, full of deep, mysterious crevices. The shelves went so high up into the painted ceiling that Teo (being the kind of girl who liked to imagine things) could imagine fronds of seaweed waving up there. But down at her level--and Teo was embarrassingly small for eleven--somewhere between the books, and even over the tang of mold and the sweetish whiff of dust, she could definitely smell fish.

Indeed, she’d been smelling fish since she arrived in Venice three days before. She would not eat fish, because she believed it was cruel to kill them (Teo was a vegetarian), but this fish smell was so delicious, so fresh and alive, like perfumed salt--that she suddenly thought to herself: “This is what pearls would smell of, if they had a smell!”

The fair-haired boy harrumphed and looked down at his book. In Venice, he seemed to be implying, one reads books, one does not sniff at them.

Teo lived in Naples, hundreds of miles to the south. Her parents--that is, the people who’d adopted her--had brought her to Venice for the first time, and with the utmost reluctance, as it happened. Teo had been told that she was adopted as soon as she was old enough to understand it. But she’d never known any other family or any other home but Naples, and she’d always been perfectly happy with both. At least, until she was six years old. That was when she had found a book called My Venice at the library. Leafing through pages illustrated with oriental-looking palaces floating on jade-green water, Teo had felt a lurch just like hunger inside.

To get to Venice had taken Teo five years of skillful and dedicated nagging, with postcards of Venetian scenes left on the top of the piano, a Venetian glass ring for her mother’s birthday and other hints that were far from subtle. Her parents, who normally loved to think up treats for Teo, had always seemed oddly unwilling to bring her here, offering one unconvincing excuse after another.

There had been moments when Teo daydreamed of doing something outrageous, such as running away from home, and making her own way to Venice. She might even have done it, if only she’d had a friend to share the adventure with. But bookworms like Teodora are not generally known for their wide circle of adventurous friends. So they tend to have their adventures in their minds’ eyes only.

At last Fate intervened. (Or so Teo whispered to herself when her parents couldn’t hear. They were scientists, and prided themselves on being thoroughly modern and rational. In other words, they weren’t great believers in Fate.) During the last few months Venice had been engulfed in a wave of strange and sinister events. Teo’s ticket here came in the form of an emergency meeting of “the world’s greatest scientists,” who had been summoned to save the threatened city. An invitation to her parents had fluttered into the letterbox.

To think they had still tried to keep Teo at home! At first, they had insisted that she should not miss any school. Although it was nearly summer, it was still term-time, and the examinations were looming. But her teacher had given permission instantly, saying in front of everyone, “Teodora’s excused the exams. She’s going to write me a lovely story about Venice instead.” No one likes a teacher’s pet: naturally the other children had glared. Teo was mortified.

Then her parents declared that the situation in Venice was so very dangerous at the moment. As if that would keep her away!

“No one has actually died yet,” she had told them.

They’d had to admit that was true.

So finally she was here, and the real Venice, despite or perhaps precisely because of its tragic situation, seemed at least twice as precious as she’d imagined.

Almost more than anything else she had seen, Teo loved this old Venetian bookshop. She liked the stone mermaids carved above the doorway, the reflections of water playing on the walls. She liked the old bookseller too, with his creased-up face, velvet breeches and waistcoat, and his scent of talcum powder and candle-grease. He sometimes peered at her with a curious expression, as if he knew her from somewhere but could not quite place her. He never told her not to touch. And even warned her to keep a grip on Smooth as a Weasel and Twice as Slippery by Arnon Rodent.

“It has a tendency to fly out of people’s hands,” he mentioned kindly.

She looked at him closely--or rather, just above his head as he spoke. For Teo had a very unusual gift. When people spoke, she saw their words actually written in the air above them. Also the manner of their speaking: some with the curt efficiency of typewriting machines, some like laborious handwriting, others with flourishes and heavy underlinings. The old bookseller spoke like a scroll of parchment unrolling, each word beautifully distinct and old-fashioned.

Teo didn’t really know what she was looking for on those bookshelves, but she had the strongest feeling that there was something marvelous here, if she could only find it.


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Undrowned Child 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
book-lover99 More than 1 year ago
This book made it to the top of my favorites list...I haven't read a book like this in awhile. I recommend it to everyone!! It was brilliant and so well written that it was just so perfect. It had all the right elements and was just extraordinary!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great! If you liked this one the next book in the series is called "THE MOURNING EMPORIUM" and becomes available at Barnes & Noble April 14, 2012!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So creepy!!!!! I love it!!!!
Bookmomnyc More than 1 year ago
The Undrowned Child's most important "character" is its setting: Venice, Italy. The city and its history, legends and momuments are a moody and mysterious stage for this Victorian era fantasy story. Yet Venice is facing some of the same problems that still confront it today: too many tourists and a disprespect for the delicate balance of lagoons, land and people. The story can be a complicated and scary, but it is a great read for kids and adults. The mermaids and their colorful pirate-like speech are funny and lovable. Teo, a cross between Harry Potter (orphaned, adopted, magical) and Hermione ( bookish, curious) is a wonderful and brave heroine who will appeal to both male and female readers. One of the fun extras in the book is an appendix which clarifies the real aspects of Venizian history and geography which he author has woven into the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a great book... history, comedy, suspense.... its got everything!!!