Friday, May 10, 2019

2020 Contenders: The Lost Boy's Gift, by Kimberly Willis Holt

The Lost Boy's Gift is the story of nine-year-old Daniel, who is living with his mother after his parents' divorce. The pair moves to While-a-Way Lane, in the town of Falling Star Valley, in the shadow of Pointy Mountain. Daniel begins meeting many of the other residents, including next-door-neighbor Tilda Butter, who can talk to animals; quirky postman Dewey Wonder; and Annie, the Lemonade Girl. Adventures ensue, including some involving a school production of Peter Pan, and a cloud of benevolently magical fireflies.

Really, how much you'll like Kimberly Willis Holt's latest novel comes down to how that last paragraph made you feel. Perhaps you'll think it sounds enchanting and delightful; if so, the book won't disappoint you. Personally, The Lost Boy's Gift made me feel like I'd just overdosed on Pixy Stix. I don't have a particularly high tolerance for capital-W Whimsy, and boy howdy, does this novel trade in Whimsy. (The library in Falling Star Valley has a Ferris wheel. I'd dearly love to sit in on that library's budget meetings.)

Lest you think that I'm a pure killjoy, I should note that The Lost Boy's Gift does some things very well. Daniel's character felt real and alive to me. He's the sort of kid who's got a good heart, but at the same time, he can't keep his hands off of anything, and many adults who encounter him come away from the experience deeply exhausted. I've met kids like that in real life, and Daniel could easily be any one of them. His struggles in coming to terms with the breakup of his parents' marriage also felt genuine and lived-in.

The plot is less careful; some elements felt to me like they had little payoff (Agatha Brown's secret love of the saxophone), and some felt less than wrapped up (Daniel's gift doesn't show up until the very end, and I'm not really sure what its full significance is). Younger readers may not mind this, but I think the Newbery committee may take note.

Lots of people like Holt's work: our very own Tess loved Dear Hank Williams, and When Zachary Beaver Came to Town won the National Book Award. This is the first of her novels that I've read, and I didn't particularly enjoy it. How much of that is due to my reading preferences is open to question, of course. I think the book is unlikely to show up on Newbery Day, however.

Published April 30, 2019, by Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan

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