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Lucy Martin has just moved into a century-old farmhouse in Iowa, overlooking the Missouri River bluffs, which her father inherited from his Aunt Lavonne. It seems like a nice place for her parents to work out problems in their marriage. But what will Lucy do? Why, Lucy will have an adventure.
The adventure begins when Lucy finds journals belonging to her long-lost Uncle Oscar, who disappeared in 1914. This is the reason Aunt Lavonne took such an interest in magic; she believed her brother’s disappearance had to do with magic. But no one ever believed Lavonne’s story that she woke up one night, found the house surrounded by an ocean, and watched her 14-year-old brother row away in a small boat, never to return.
After reading Oscar’s journals, Lucy still has no clue as to what became of him. But then she finds a rowboat in the shed – the boat that had turned up empty some time after Oscar disappeared – and hidden nearby, an old “book of story beginnings.” Some of the story beginnings are written in Oscar’s hand, including one where a boy realizes that the farmland around his house has turned into the sea. Lucy adds her own story beginning to the book – something about a girl whose father was a magician – but before she can write further, she finds herself living in the middle of the story she has begun.
The book, you see, is magical. Whatever story you begin to write in it must be finished, not by writing it, but by living it. The book also judges what you write, so that if you try to bring your story to a too-neat conclusion, the book may erase what you have written. So you’re stuck in the story until you find out how it ends.
Next thing Lucy knows, her father has turned himself into a bird and flown away. Oscar, who should be elderly or dead, turns up exactly as he was when he disappeared. The two children realize that they have to see all the stories they have started through to the end if they want things to return to normal. And they have to do it before Lucy’s mother gets too concerned about her father’s disappearance. It may be too late to save Oscar’s family from a lifetime of grief and uncertainty, but Lucy is determined not to let that happen to her family.
If the fantasy concepts of The Great Good Thing, Thursday Next, Inkheart, and The Neverending Story intrigued you, you will especially enjoy this book. The story that Lucy and Oscar fall into is full of quirks, dangers, and surprises. The characters, both in their real lives and in the story-within-the-story, are treated with an affectionate warmth that you, too, will feel toward them. And the idea of a story taking over your life may challenge you to think strange thoughts about the boundary between reality and fiction.