Thursday 1 November 2012

A Matter of Life and Death or Something by Ben Stephenson

Published by Douglas & McIntyre an imprint of D&M Publishers Inc

Arthur Williams is a ten year old with a fondness for exploring the woods near his home. During one of those explorations he finds a journal by 'Phil' that leaves him troubled, curious, and determined to scour his neighbourhood for clues. Easier said than done when you have an overprotective 'almost' father to deal with, and you have a real father who is travelling around the world in a hot air balloon, or finding cures for cancer, or other life-saving and genius activities.

This is a cute book. I'll admit that during the beginning, I was wondering if I was ever going to really connect with any of the characters or get used to the trio of storytellers (Arthur, Phil via his journal entries, and the trees in the woods). I did adjust pretty quickly though and I have to say that while I found Phil and Arthur to both be interesting characters, I still found the trees to be my favourite narrators. While it does come across as a quick and easy read, I love that it includes stereotypes. For example that creepy rundown house that every child remembers from their neighbourhood because it 'obviously' housed a crazy person, witch, ghost, murderer or all of the above. Arthur's investigation leads him to interact with various neighbours during which he records all the conversations as he interrogates them. The interviews are often hilarious, always entertaining and rarely lead him any closer to the answers he seeks.

More entertaining were Arthur's imaginative theories about his real father and his knack for inventing things such as the perforated loaf (to create all kinds of new sandwiches like the zig-zag sandwich). At times the same conversation about his father casts a somewhat melancholy shadow as Arthur's insecurities regarding his parentage make a brief appearance.  While I didn't feel like I really connected with any of the characters within the pages, it has been a few days now and I still find myself smiling as I remember parts of the book and feeling a fondness for young Arthur and his innocence and naivety.

Also, check out the author interview at the D&M Publishers website

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