CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 4 . . . . October 15, 2004
Suitable for readers aged 10 to 14, The Mob is a sprawling work, encompassing the whole world of the Family of crows: their customs, beliefs about humans, routines, migration habits, maturation, and even creation myths. Martini, who has a wonderful command of language, crafts an elegant tale. The characters he creates in Kyp, Kym and Kuper are unique and exciting: Kyp for his gutsy daring, Kym for her inquisitiveness and intelligence, and Kuper for his odd-man-out quality. Their role in shaping the crow Family's fate through a blizzard and several cat attacks makes for a compelling story.
However, this novel is not without its difficulties. Martini has competently employed a back-and-forth structure of flashbacks and foreshadowing which, while artistically commendable, may lose child readers in its meanderings. The late introduction of conflict (Chapter Seven) and a lack of any true overriding conflict arcing over the whole novel make the story seem disjointed and sometimes directionless. Another artistically admirable choice is Martini's use of narrator. The group elder Kalum (in the crow Family he is the Chooser) reveals both crow lore and Kyp, Kym and Kuper's tale within the narrative frame of a storytelling session for the Family at an annual Gathering. Although this device might work brilliantly on screen, in print it is problematic. First, it may be difficult for a child reader to relate to this elder, with his extremely adult worries about his responsibility for the group and his complaints about aching old bones. More detrimental is the effect Kalum's presence has of building an extreme distance between reader and characters. Although the reader is intended to feel like one of the flock listening to the story, the actual effect is that s/he can rarely get close enough to any characters to care about them. For example, not until the focus of the story shifts to Kyp, Kym, and Kuper on page 111 did I feel truly engaged and interested in the lives of the crows. The result is that the three main characters' story, which is surely the heart of the tale, feels stuck in the middle of Kalum's explanations of the crow world-- which, instead of a story, sometimes seem to be the true raison d'etre of The Mob.
There can be no doubt that Martini's intended audience will respond with delight to Kyp, Kym, Kuper and their story. The question is whether they will be willing to sift through Kalum's sometime's long-winded ramblings to experience it. That said, if readers of The Mob persevere they will be the richer. As well as imagining and fleshing out the crow world every bit as well as Oppel did the bat world, Martini also explores meaningful themes of individuality, resourcefulness, and necessary rejection of authority and rules versus collectivity, obedience, and following tradition.
Recommended with Reservations.
Michelle Warry is a graduate student in UBC's Master of Arts in Children's Literature program.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.