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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Will Sparrow's Road, written by Karen Cushman. Clarion Books, Thomas Allen & Son, 2012. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"The morning brought rain again. The few fairgoers, huddled in their sodden cloaks, went about their business quickly and did not stop to be astounded or astonished. Will sat on the church porch, where the overhang offered him some protection from the wet, and watched. Despite the weather, a passing family laughed loudly and Will turned to study them..."

I swear to you that I await each new Karen Cushman novel with great anticipation, and she has not disappointed me...even once! I don't have a favorite of her books as I love them all. She has an uncanny ability to create setting and character so that you feel you are living right there within the book.

This is her first novel with a male protagonist, and to say she has captured the essence of a boy living in Elizabethan England in 1599 is not my call, as she knows so much more about the time, place and character of Will Sparrow than I could ever hope to know. I can tell you that I was captivated with him from the first sentence:

"Will Sparrow was a liar and a thief, and hungry, so when he saw the chance to steal a cold rabbit pie from the inn's kitchen and blame it on the dog, he took it - both the chance and the pie."

to the last one:

"Will wiggled his toes in glee and looked down the road that lay ahead."

Harrowing? Yes! Hopeful? Yes!

And in the middle it is a story that will brook no dallying in the reading. So, when you start, just make sure that you have time to sit and savor the words, the scenes, the action and the adventure that is Will's.

Sold to the innkeeper by his father for free drink at his inn, Will is mistreated and threatened, bootless and locked in the stable after daring to steal the pie that would stave off ever-present hunger. A lesser boy might think it his fate; Will is 'wiry, clever, sad and angry' and not about to stay where he is put. In a rash act of defiance, he is off into the wild, cold night, with nothing but a horsehair blanket and his wits.

The road to wherever he's going is open, and dangerous for a young boy on his own. He knows he should only trust himself. Life lessons are sure to hold him in good stead...after he has been tricked by a thief, a con artist and various others who have already learned that very difficult lesson and don't mind being the teachers in Will's education. After some hard knocks, he finds a place with a wandering troop of  'oddities and prodigies' led by Master Tidball, a hard taskmaster:

"'Twas his good fortune, Will thought once again, to be fed and employed, even if it were but as hireling of the monstermonger and there looked to be no more wages coming his way. He realized he had stopped asking about wages. His belly was full and his days occupied, but what about when the weather turned foul? Were there still fairs in the winter? What would happen to him? But as long as the sun shone, he was able to push the worries away."

 Will learns much about family from the members of the troupe, even much he does not want to know from the aforementioned Tidball. He sees beyond the obvious to the hearts of his traveling companions, and we watch him with great admiration every step of the way!

This is a novel that is sure to be on all award lists this year....are you listening, Newbery Committee?

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