The Lost Boy

You’ve likely read something like the plot of The Lost Boy before — kid moves to new house with a history, discovers a fantasy world beyond the gate / through the trees / inside the cupboard.

In this case, Nate finds a reel-to-reel tape recorder under the floorboards. The long-disappeared Walter Pidgin had used it to record his observations about the odd things he saw, things no one else seemed to notice. Things like a grasshopper in a suit and top hat riding a dog. The talking squirrel Pettibone. A walking, talking doll.

Nate and the neighbor girl Tabitha follow in Walt’s footsteps to discover an alternate forest kingdom. This tale divides into two sections. The first is a melancholy mystery of what happened to Walt; the second, an invasion and hopeless battle showdown. Ruth wears his influences proudly, from the old mentor sounding a bit like the Doctor, to the Hobbit-like names in the fantasy world, but his images are worth seeing.

The telling moves rapidly, as though originally the book had been planned as a trilogy or series, but instead the events are compressed into just one volume. The blend of tree-beings, living toys, and plotting insects appears to lift elements of three different stories, but what makes this book different is the art.

Greg Ruth’s lovely images are outstanding, photo-realistic pencils with a real sense of mood and place. He’s able to capture people, wildlife, and settings equally well, and the grey tones give the work a timeless feel. You can see examples in these preview pages. It’s a spooky book to read, particularly the first time through, when you just want to know what’s behind it all.

There’s also a subtle through-line of kids looking to matter, particularly those like Walt, who doesn’t get along with his absent, angry father. That’s the underlying message of these kinds of fantasy stories, right? That there’s another, better, more real world where kids can make a difference, unlike our world where they feel powerless? For that reason, younger readers, who haven’t seen as many similar stories, will likely enjoy The Lost Boy most.

In addition to the hardcover edition, there’s a cheaper ($12.99) paperback available. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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