CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 21. . . .February 5, 2016
The Boy Who Knew Everything.
New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2015.
406 pp., trade pbk., $19.50.
Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.
Review by Meredith Harrison-Lim.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Mr. Kaiser was the only one who was awake to hear a small set of footsteps on the roof of the house. Next he heard a clunk that was followed by the crash of wood. As though he was dreaming, he watched as a hole was punched into his roof. Wood splintered and shattered around them but didnít touch them.
Moments later a young girl flew Ė but how could that be? He squinted his eyes to refocus and yet still the girl was flying Ö Flying?
She flew through the hole in the roof into the attic and across to where the Kaiser family was huddled. Her long brown hair was caught up in a braid and she wore a pair of jeans and a blue T-shirt that said SECOND STAR TO THE RIGHT AND STRAIGHT ON TIL MORNING. A smattering of freckles dotted her nose and cheeks. When her feet touched down she crouched next to Mr. Kaiser, and he was able to see that she was as ordinary as any girl he might have seen walking up and down Main Street. Ordinary, that is, except for her blue eyes. Her eyes were made from the sky and held a depth and understanding that was almost impossible for such a young girl to have. She was at once ordinary and at the same time utterly extraordinary.
ďMe and my friends are here to help you,Ē the girl said.
Mr. Kaiser nodded. He had no words.
Conrad Harrington III is extraordinarily intelligent. His best friend Piper has the ability to fly. They and their friends hide their special abilities from others in order to fit in with the rest of society. While Piper and her friends are eager to use their abilities collectively to ensure they are able to help one another, Conrad is uninterested until tragedy strikes close to home. Under his leadership, their friends begin to use their skills to intervene undetected in crises which Conrad comes to realize are not random. A mysterious figure organizes events in order to lure Conrad and Piper into a place where individuals with special abilities are celebrated, not feared. While Piper is ecstatic to find a community where her abilities can be recognized and supported, Conrad is suspicious of the lack of answers regarding who led them there. However, once his new friend Max shows him the Knowledge Centre, a resource centre with limitless amounts of information, Conrad is also excited by the opportunities that can be found in Xanthia. While Conrad is able to use the resources in the Knowledge Centre to pinpoint the next disaster, he quickly finds himself having to make a choice between his own well-being and the well-being of others. Suddenly Piper finds herself alone in her return to their friends and family and finds herself dependent upon the aid of an old foe.
The Boy Who Knew Everything picks up shortly after where The Girl Who Could Fly left off. The focus turns to 12-year-old Conrad Harrington III and his abilities, his family, and his new life as the newest member of the McCloud residence. The second core member of the story is Conradís best friend, Piper McCloud, a 12-year-old girl. The remaining cast of central characters is very large, with nine of Piper and Conradís friends and former classmates from their boarding school, their arch nemesis Letitia Hellion, their families, and community members from Piperís town and the mysterious land of Xanthia, all of whom play significant parts within the story. The number of the characters playing valuable roles in the novel leads to a robust plot; however, readers who have not read the prior novel may need to spend addition time reviewing the names and descriptions of the characters and their activities in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of each character. Enough background is provided to understand the story without having read the prior book; however, someone who is familiar with the first installment will appreciate the second.
The relationship between Piper and Conrad is wonderful. While it is not depicted with romantic tones, they work and interact with one another as a unit and are frequently dependent upon one anotherís insight in order to best react to different situations. For example, in the novel, Piper and Conrad are preparing to separate from the rest of their friends to deal with a family emergency. While Conrad throws himself into logistical preparations for their journey, Piper recognizes that their friends are terrified to be without Conradís leadership while responding to a separate crisis. She is able to help him see when and what he needs to do to emotionally to reach out to others. In other instances, he has the superior handle on how to read and interact with others, and he is able to reign in Piperís abundant enthusiasm to effectively gain the trust of those in need.
While the characters are only slightly older in this novel than in The Girl Who Could Fly, the plot is far more complex. The pace of the novel is brisk, yet appropriate detail is given regarding the events throughout. Readers wonít feel cheated by brief descriptions brushing over important details or emotional reactions by the characters. Given that The Boy Who Knew Everything is part of speculative fiction, due to the charactersí X-Men-like abilities and the use of time travel, the plot reasonably strays from believability. The various storylines are interesting and interwoven successfully for the most part. However, the plot is complicated and, at times, it is unclear how certain events fit in with other information that is provided to the readers. For example, while some of the characters know that Conrad and Piper have walked into a trap, it is unclear how the villain in the story was responsible for setting up the events that initially triggered Conrad and Piperís actions.
The authorís prose is emotionally evocative in the novel, with age-appropriate language being utilized. When a character experiences a serious health issue, their loved onesí reactions are quite diverse as they each strain to remedy the situation in a manner familiar to them without success. This event turns a relatively upbeat and happy novel into one that is more emotionally complex and will likely cause the readers to experience sadness. Another particularly enjoyable aspect of the novel is how the author utilizes the third person, allowing the audience to read how different characters remember the same situation, such as how both Conrad and his father reflect on the events of his second birthday. It is valuable in understanding the cause fueling atypical reactions that marked the memories of the characters.
As in The Girl Who Could Fly, the theme of embracing oneís abilities plays a significant role of directing the plot. While Piper is certain that individuals who have additional talents should use them as blessings to others, Conrad is less sure. He first must overcome the emotional and psychological burden that he carries from his fatherís disapproval prior to embracing how he can use his intelligence and leadership abilities to make the world a better place. Additionally, he and Piper demonstrate significant growth in trusting and forgiving individuals who previously caused them great harm. These changes in the characters seem realistic. While Conrad is deeply distrustful of his biological parents due to the harm they placed him in, he softens towards them as he grows to realize what caused them to act in certain ways. The likelihood of these changed behaviours seems plausible due to the characterís youthfulness, as well as the how his relationship with his father is depicted throughout the novel. The Boy Who Knew Everything closes with multiple relationships becoming restored, yet not all storylines are resolved. This is satisfactory conclusion, providing an opportunity for the author to continue to add to this series at a later point.
Meredith Harrison-Lim is a MLIS graduate working for the federal government in the National Capital Region.
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