When the mother of 13-year-old Luke dies in a car crash, his father – a talented toy maker – has a complete breakdown. He starts drinking, neglects his work, lags behind with the bills, and finally father and son are forced to give up their house and move to a derelict house somewhere in a small town off the map, because that’s all they can afford. In their new home, Luke and his father continue with their lives as it has been since the death of the mother: the father goes on drinking and does some odd bits of work in his workshop, and Luke uses art to empty his brain – he spends all his afternoons on the hills around their house and paints stone piles, and in the remaining time he either day-dreams about his mother, or worries about the approaching end of the summer holidays when he will have to go to school again, and be the „new kid” in the class, and endure all the unpleasantness of this situation. But then one morning Jon, a boy of weird appearance and behavior living in the neighborhood comes over uninvited and things slowly start to change. Luke and Jon strike up a friendship, and the constant presence of a third person seems to shake Luke’s father out of his apathy – and instead of drowning his energies and his sense of loss in alcohol, he starts out on a major new project: the biggest and greatest toy he ever wanted to create.
The novel crowds a surprising number of themes into a relatively small number of pages: the story, for instance, deals with the difficulty of overcoming the loss of a parent or a spouse, the way one can live together with someone suffering from a mental or nervous disorder, and also how mentally ill people are looked upon with a certain kind of fear and suspicion in general (as it turns out, Luke’s mother had manic-depressive disorder, and since she hadn’t been taking her medications before her accident happened, the authorities consider her death a result of suicide). Another important themes are school bullying; taking responsibility for others; and also the healing power of art and creation.
All this may seem a bit too much, but Robert Williams manages the multitude and seriousness of these topics well. Or, in fact, more than just well: the novel is basically serious in tone and it’s not shallow, yet it’s still an easy and entertaining read. Of course, if you feel like it, you can even learn from it – but fortunately not because Williams spoon-feeds you with good-for-everything solutions or great lessons. He simply shows how his characters deal with their difficulties, but doesn’t suggest that all their decisions are the right examples to follow.
Finally, the narrative voice is also worth mentioning: the narrator of the novel is Luke himself, and his lively, dreamy and very engaging voice and his sometimes truly child-like and sometimes surprisingly mature and empathic way of thinking make this a very a likeable book – both for teenagers and for adults.