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The Slippery Map
by N. E. Bode
This story, supposedly told to N. E. Bode by the nuns themselves, is about a boy named Oyster R. Motel (!), raised in the convent where he was left in a basket as a tiny baby. Though the unpleasant Mrs. Fishback (who “helps” the silent nuns with any business that requires speaking) has nothing nice to say about Oyster, he is clearly loved by the nuns – especially Sister Mary Many Pockets, who found him on the steps. Nevertheless, Oyster is lonely. He longs to have friends, to have adventures beyond the rules and boundaries of the convent, and above all to find his parents.
Then weird things start to happen. Rips open in the fabric of the world, sucking children into them and spitting them out again. One of them finally comes for Oyster, taking not only the boy but also Mrs. Fishback’s disgusting, fat dachshund named Leatherbelly. It turns out not to be alien abduction, though. Instead, Oyster has been sucked into an imaginary world created, a generation ago, by two children his age. The creators have become trapped in their own world, and now Oyster is the one who must save them. Why, you ask? Answer: They’re his parents!
Oyster’s parents are the authors of a truly odd little fantasy world, populated by various types and sizes of fairies, as well as by some dangerous creatures that take a good deal of avoiding. But their charming country has become an environmental and political nightmare, as everything has been taken over by a brutal ruler named Dark Mouth, whose toad-like minions force little people called Perths to slave in his sugar factory, eat sugar, breathe sugar, and so forth. Guided by an unlikely pair of Perths named Hopps and Ringet, and helped (sometimes reluctantly by various others, Oyster sets off on a quest that takes him over a breathing river, through an underground world infested by dirt clams and spider wolves, through a dangerous forest, and up an unforgiving mountain. He meets a guru, a dragon, a TV personality (the personification of evil), and finally a monstrous warlord whose prisons are full of good people – including Oyster’s mom and dad.
Here is a very sound story that should appeal to anyone who likes (for example) The Gammage Cup. It is a warm-hearted, sometimes moving, often funny tale full of strange images, happy surprises, and plenty of thrills. It seems there is, after all, a future for “N. E. Bode” (a.k.a. Julianna Baggott) outside “his” (?) series about Fern, Howard, and The Anybodies. In fact, this book is a healthy sign that, where young-readers’ fiction is concerned, Baggott is just getting warmed up. I think this is her best work in this field so far.