Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book Review: The Book of Story Beginnings by Kristin Kladstrup

I'm sure there have been books written all over the place about books and stories being real. (I know, I'm about to write one.) But what about stories you create on your own?

This is where we meet the Book of Story Beginnings.

Other than being the title of the novel I'm reviewing, the Book of Story Beginnings is an actual book--in the story, at least--that is built on imagination. It is a special book (well, more of a blank journal) that holds more immense power than you could imagine.

Why is it called the book of story beginnings? Because within its pages and outside them, stories come alive and take on a path of their own. The Book even warns you on its cover:

"Beware, you writers who write within;

Be mindful of stories that you begin;
For every story that has a beginning
May have a middle and an end.
Know this, too, before you write:
Though day must always lead to night,
Not all beginnings make good tales;
Some succeed, while others fail.
Let this book its judgment lend
On whether and how your beginning ends."

And it all starts when you write "Once upon a time."

Lucy is one of these people who has written in it. She's a writer, albeit a young one at only twelve years old. So when she and her family move from the big city to the middle of nowhere in their relative's house in Iowa, she has no idea she's going to be going on the adventure of her life.

It all began when Oscar, her present great-uncle, wrote in the book of story beginnings back in 1914. He was an aspiring 14-year-old writer, and thought of the book as not much more than his countless other notebooks filled to the brim with his stories. So when he wrote about a boy who rowed out to sea from his house in the middle of Iowa, it gave him a big surprise when one night in bed he heard the sound of waves crashing against the hill on which his house was perched. Not knowing what else to do, he went outside and upon finding a rowboat and oars waiting for him on the front lawn and suddenly there he was, rowing out to sea from the middle of the United States, to never be seen again.

The only one who knew what had really happened who could still tell the tale was his younger sister, Lucy's great-aunt Lavonne. To the day she died, nobody believed her. They thought Oscar had run away, because the ocean had disappeared at the morning light. But before she had died, she had written Lucy a letter. She recounted a recent dream she had seen, and it was of the night Oscar had gone. In the dream, when she had called out to Oscar, he had yelled back over the roaring waves: "Lucy will explain."

Almost a century after that night, Lucy moves into the house that Oscar once lived in with her family and finds the book of story beginnings. Like Oscar, she has no idea what it can do. Her life is turned upside down as soon as she writes the words, "There once was a girl who had a father who was a magician."

All she wanted was for him to be able to fix her parents' problems: fights between them, the family's money, her father's unstable job. But all of a sudden her father is tinkering with alchemy and magic from Lavonne's old books and studies, and when he makes a potion that transforms things by imagination, Lucy watches in horror as he turns himself into a crow and soars out into the world beyond.

The potion also reveals Oscar from the most unlikely hiding place, and it's up to the two of them to embark on an adventure to save Lucy's father and enter a world woven of stories that they never could have imagined.


I don't think I have any problems with this book. For being the author's first novel, it is incredibly richly and intricately woven with interesting characters and settings, as well as a fresh and original plot, and definitely is the kind of book that takes you in and makes you read it to the end. It may be written for a slightly younger audience than the teen genre (maybe around ages 7-12), but that shouldn't matter. I loved the Book of Story Beginnings, and you will too.

5 stars

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