Sam is almost 11 when he discovers a locked box in the attic above his grandfather Mack's room, and a piece of paper that says he was kidnapped. There are lots of other words, but Sam has always had trouble reading. He's desperate to find out who he is, and if his beloved Mack is really his grandfather. At night he's haunted by dreams of a big castle and a terrifying escape on a boat. Who can he trust to help him read the documents that could unravel the mystery? Then he and the new girl, Caroline, are paired up to work on a school project, building a castle in Mack's woodworking shop. Caroline loves to read, and she can help. But she's moving soon, and the two must hurry to discover the truth about Sam.
The day before he turns 11, Sam searches the attic for hidden birthday presents and discovers more than he bargained for: a newspaper clipping showing a photograph of him as a missing child. In this exquisitely rendered story of self-discovery, Giff (Lily's Crossing) creates what she calls a "jig-saw puzzle" of a book, showing readers how Sam pieces together artifacts and his own flashbacks to find out whether Mack, the man he has lived with for as long as he can remember, really is his grandfather. Learning the truth requires research, and Sam, a special-needs student who has trouble reading, solicits help from Caroline, a new girl at school. As they embark on two projects-building a medieval castle for social studies and solving the mystery of Sam's past-they also construct a solid friendship, despite Caroline's parents' plans for another, imminent move. Although the premise echoes that of Caroline Cooney's The Face on the Milk Carton, the similarity ends there. Evoking an entirely different mood and set of circumstances, this intimate story realistically examines friendship, family secrets and the struggles of a learning-disabled child trying to make sense of the world. Given the author's expertise at developing sympathetic characters and creating a suspenseful plot, readers will find the complexity of Sam's vulnerabilities to be as intriguing as the unfolding enigma of his past. Ages 8-13. (Jan.)
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Wendy Lamb Books
January 07, 2008
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