You might recognize the author's name from Juniper Berry, which I loved, here in this post. I was surprised at how much I loved Juniper Berry and again at how much I loved The Dyerville Tales. Both of Kozlowsky's books have a mood in common - one of building uncertainty and fear. They also both look at the mysteries of the adult world with a steely, clear-eyed gaze. Very few adults escape these books whole. The building tension, combined with the look at how adults compromise themselves, is one of the things I love best about Kozlowsky. But his books can also keep me up at night, worrying about what might happen next.
The Dyerville Tales begins with Vince Elgin. He lives in an orphanage, because his mother died in a house fire when he was ten years old. Vince believes that his father escaped the fire, somehow, and is still alive. He believes this because while Vince's mother died in the hospital room next to his, after getting Vince and herself out of the house. Vince knows that "the authorities never discovered a single trace of him in the ashes of their home. No bones, no teeth, not even the gold ring Vince had been promised. And for Vince, this changed everything. This was where he found his hope." (p. 11)
Vince isn't sure exactly why there was a fire, nor is he really sure about the events leading up to the fire. He remembers how scared his parents were the night before but has lots of questions about what actually happened. But the younger children in the orphanage love to hear most of the tale of Vince's arrival at the orphanage, and so he retells it (and relives it) over and over again. It is full of magic to the other children, because it has parents in it, parents who care about Vince's safety, who want to protect him from the evil that surrounds them.
When Vince goes to the orphanage, after his mother's death and his father's disappearance it's because the only relative he has left is his grandfather. His grandfather was believed to be crazy and was living in a nursing home. When this story begins, it is with a package that arrives from Dyerville, the town where his grandfather lived, addressed to Vince. In the package, a letter informs Vince that his grandfather has passed away, and that the funeral will be in a week. Enclosed in the package is a book - a collection of tales his grandfather told in his nursing home, much as Vince has told stories in the orphanage. Vince knows he must get to the funeral. After all, it is his father's father. And if Vince has any chance of seeing his own father again, it will be there, at the funeral.
The director of the orphanage tells Vince that there is no possible way he can go to the funeral - the orphanage doesn't have the money or the resources to get him to Dyerville, which is a long way from the town where the orphanage is located. Vince is determined, though. He escapes from the orphanage with the help of a friend, Anthony. "Vince heard the commotion but told himself not to look back. He had to concentrate on climbing. He thought of what would be waiting for him at the end of this journey. In Dyerville he would find his father. A new life would be waiting; all he had to do was make it to the other side of the gate. Suddenly it didn't seem so impossible." (p. 52) And he makes it. It's just one little step in what could be a very long journey. But as he clears the fence around the orphanage, "somewhere deep within his mind there was now a spark glowing. It was small, but it wanted to grow." (p. 53) I don't want to ruin the suspense of the well-plotted story. You just need to pick it up.
But here's what I will talk about. This book isn't just about stories and telling them (although clearly that is a major focus, considering what I've already told you about Vince and his grandfather). It feels just like a fairy tale set in real life. After all, there are not one but two epic journeys written about here. Each time Vince opens his grandfather's book, there is a picture that helps add to the drama of Vincent's journey. Both stories have fairy tale elements in them - things that are almost too incredible to be true. And yet they are. There are also some elements of reality that are fairy tale scary, too. Here is one of those moments: "Her breath was colder than the wind. With her lips touching his skin, and in a childish voice, she began to sing: 'Oh, I have the moon in me. And everything beyond. I am a black hole, you see. And I'll eat me some vagabond.'" (p. 144) Just writing that quote totally out of context made the hair on my arms stand up!
There are, of course, lots of parallels between both journeys -both Vince and his grandfather are 12 when their journeys start. When the director of the orphanage brings Vince the package, she asks Vince "' You were named after him. Am I right?' Vince nodded. 'My parents said I looked just like him too. Almost identical. I don't know. I didn't see it.'" (p. 24) Both boys are on their own, trying to solve a mystery of their own lives. And of course, when the book begins, they are both stranded in places (the orphanage or the nursing home) without any family connection. There are so many magical things that happen in this book to tie the two together, over and over.
I was truly spellbound by this book, as you should be by any true fairy tale. It has adventure, magic and leaves you questioning Please pick it up - you'll dive right in.
The Dyerville Tales. M.P. Kozlowsky. Walden Pond Press, 2014.
I won this ARC in a giveaway, without expectation of a review.