100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

[attempting to recreate the mythical Best Written Blog Post Ever (see previous post)…although my frustration is such this will probably become quite truncated and brief]

After my disappointment with Envy, it was gratifying to pick up 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson.  Fresh, original, funny, and well-balanced, 100 Cupboards is a unique piece of fantasy, with some mystery thrown in.  Wilson spends a great deal of time letting his readers get to know his characters, most of whom are quirky, and none of whom are a “type.”  Our hero is Henry York, a twelve-year-old Bostonian who has been transplanted to his aunt and uncle’s farm in Kansas after the kidnapping of his travel-writing parents while on assignment.  Henry’s parents have over-protected and under-loved him, forcing him to do things like wear a helmet to gym class and sit in a booster car seat at his mature age, but never letting him enjoy the finer points of youth and indulge in such unsafe practices as playing a game of neighborhood baseball.

Moving to Kansas is an eye-opening experience for Henry.  Aunt Dotty and Uncle Frank have three daughters (Henrietta, Penny, and Anastasia), and live their lives in a state of happy chaos.  Uncle Frank – my favorite character – speaks little but wisely, and pursues interesting business opportunities like selling tumbleweed at auction online.  Aunt Dotty, a loving and kind woman, appreciates her soft spoken husband and loves her girls without smothering them.  The three girls range from older Penny to twelve-year-old Henrietta to the annoying (but sweet) youngest sister Anastasia. 

Though some blogging critics have complained that Wilson spends too long setting up the story, and too little time on the actual “action” of the story, I love that I’m given a chance to bond with these wonderful characters before the fantasy elements of the story kick into full gear.  Since I’d gotten to know Henry and Henrietta so well, the suspense was ramped up ten notches when they found themselves facing a wall of cupboard doors that open into other worlds.  Each time Henrietta carelessly opened that door to evil Endor, my breath caught and my heart raced.  When Henrietta disappeared and Henry had to plunge into another world in an attempt to find her, I was right there alongside him.  The story wouldn’t have been nearly so exciting if I hadn’t been so bonded with the characters.

But for me, the very best part of 100 Cupboards is the humor.  It is very, very funny.  At one point in the sixth grade book group meeting, one of the kids reminded us all of a particular funny scene, and the whole group fell into paroxysms of laughter remembering that scene.  Humor plus fully developed characters plus a dash of mystery (most of the kids in the book group kept referring to the book as a mystery) plus original fantasy – mixed all together, these ingredients make for one of the best books I’ve read in recent months.  And the book group liked it, too.

One final tidbit:  one of the library’s best-read kids, an intelligent and popular sixth grader who plows through every book that his mom and I can find for him, said this to me the other day when his mom told him that the sequel to 100 Cupboards was out and that I had put a hold on it for him:  “YES!!!!!!  Abby, you are AWESOME!!!!!  You are the BEST!!!!!!!”  And he said it loud.  And he said it in front of all of his cool friends.  Any book (and its sequel) that can garner that kind of enthusiasm from a sixth grader is a-ok by me.