by N. E. Bode
For a quick-reference guide to some of the best childrens fantasy books, theres no better place to go than a childrens fantasy book about childrens fantasy books. A recent, famous example is the Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke. Another example is this book, whose elusive author owes a lot to adult fiction writer Julianna Baggott.
I have to admit, when I was first told to read The Anybodies by N. E. Bode, I was sure someone was pulling my leg. But there really is such a book! It begins with the story of a girl named Fern Drudger who has special powers, such as opening a book about crickets and letting thousands of crickets escape. This and many other weird happenings put a strain on Ferns family, for due to being switched at birth with another child poor Fern has been raised by the dullest couple on earth.
Then one rainy night, a man who calls himself the Bone appears on the Drudgers doorstep and explains the whole mix-up. He has been raising the Drudgers true son, Howard, a boy whose passion for order and mathematical precision ensures that he will never be happy as the son of a circus hypnotist. So, before Fern quite knows what is going on, the children have been swapped for the summer, just to try things out with their real families.
Fern soon learns that the Bone is a gentle, sensitive man who avoids touchy-feely subjects, and who still mourns for Ferns mother (who died in childbirth). The Bone also explains that he and Ferns mother were Anybodies. Anybodies are people who can be anybody, by changing their shape and personality to perfectly impersonate another person or even an object like a tree or a lamppost. Anybodies can also hypnotize people and even objects like books.
The Bone is worried, though. He hasnt had his full powers as an Anybody since Ferns mother died. He believes the key to what is missing can be found in a book calledThe Art of Being Anybody which could be anywhere! Fern believes it is in the book-crammed house of her very eccentric grandmother. To find it, and decode it, means not only changing their identities to infiltrate the old ladys house, but also racing against the Bones former best-friend-turned-worst-enemy, named the Miser.
What follows then has too many weird and wonderful facets to be summarized here. It includes a bit of shaking things out of books (bigger things than crickets); and some hypnosis and shape-changing; and a quest to thaw hearts frozen by grief and bitterness; and encounters with characters and scenes from new and old classics of childrens literature, from Alice in Wonderland all the way to Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events.
I think The Anybodies is a delightful story, with a charming heroine and a touching conclusion. It establishes an interesting new fantasy world and populates it with adorable characters. I only have one complaint: the book could do without the bits where N. E. Bode confides directly to the reader, interrupting the narrative in rambling asides that have little to do with the story. Some of these asides had a bit of charm and humor in them, but mostly they just made me impatient. My guess is that N. E. Bode was trying to horn in on the Lemony Snicket mystique, but not as successfully. When you read this aloud to your kids (or your parents), you can easily remedy this problem by skipping over the parenthetical remarks. I would, and the rest of the book is simply too good to let such a little thing spoil it.
One more thing: theres a sequel out, titled The Nobodies. Its currently available in hardcover. Youll know its out in paperback when I review it here.