This is book number #2 for John Guillen’s reading challenge: A book written the year you were born. I was born in the early days of 1992. I wanted to find a book that was actually published on my birthday, but Google was less than helpful.
Someone should really create a website that lists books with their full publication dates in an easily searchable format. Or maybe there wouldn’t really be a demand for that. It would be nice if Goodreads had this feature.
Anyway, I gave up on that idea and instead found a list of books published in 1992, and I chose The Thief of Always by Clive Barker, largely because the cover looked interesting, the author’s name sounded vaguely familiar, and it was available at my local library.
Random chance served me well here because I loved the book.
Ten-year-old Harvey Swick is bored. February is dragging along, school is stupid, and he’s sure that he might die of boredom before spring arrives. Luckily for him, a strange man with a large smile flies through his window and invites him to a magic place where he can relieve his boredom. Stranger danger hasn’t been discussed with this kid, so he ends up ditching school to check it out.
Harvey ends up at a beautiful house where the seasons change every few hours so that it’s spring in the morning, summer in the afternoon, fall in the evening, and winter overnight. There are two other kids there and a kindly old lady who constantly cooks. But things aren’t as perfect as they seem, and Harvey, being the overly inquisitive type, has to find out what exactly this place is.
There is a line when Harvey is speaking to the villain Mr. Hood that I really love. Mr. Hood says that he didn’t really take anything that Harvey wanted to keep, to which Harvey replies that he didn’t know what he was losing.
“Ah,” said Hood softly, “but isn’t that always the way of it? Things slip from your fingers and when they’re gone you regret it. But gone is gone, Harvey Swick!”
I felt that this exchange really encapsulates the core message of the book, which Barker describes as a fable. It hit me particularly hard as lately I have been feeling that time is passing me by at an alarming rate and I’m still so far from the things that I want in my life.
Of course the rest of the fable’s message (to me) is that we need to appreciate the things that we have. Even being bored is a gift. We are so lucky that we have time to be bored rather than spending all of our days working our fingers to the bone to earn money or collect food.
I know it doesn’t usually feel that way, but it’s useful to think about. There’s actually a YouTube video by VSauce called “Why Do We Get Bored?” that I found entertaining and informative.
So, I really liked this format from my last review; let’s do it again. Note, anything above this point is (essentially) spoiler free. Things below get more specific so it will give things away if you haven’t read the story.
Five Things that I Loved:
- Harvey Swick. He starts out as a selfish little boy who gives up his curiosity quickly for the chance of fun, but he really grows over the course of the fable. He’s still a little boy with some foibles, but he really does turn into a hero and he learns how to trust his curious nature.
- Harvey’s parents. They are incredibly tolerant people. After Harvey has defeated the villain and set time to rights, he tells them the story and they don’t immediately dismiss him as fanciful! Not that they instantly believe him, either, but it’s nice that they give him a chance.
- The house. I love everything about the evil old house. It’s beautiful designs, the philosophy of its vampiric spirit, the utter simplicity of its plan to draw children in and steal their souls.
- The description of the seasons. As each day moves along, the way the seasons are described in idyllic terms actually made me feel like I was there. Or rather, it took me back to a memory of a day like it.
- Foreshadowing in the book is masterfully done. Most of it is so subtle that a second read-through it required to catch it.
And one thing that irked me:
- Wendell. I know that he is important as a sidekick or maybe a meter stick for Harvey. Without the obnoxious fat kid who falls easily back into the charade, it wouldn’t be as obvious that Harvey is something special. I still couldn’t stand this kid.
There’s a lot in this book, so a review like this can’t really do it justice. I just recommend reading it for yourself. It’s really short, plus the hard cover edition has fascinating illustrations by Clive Barker, and picture books always seem to move more quickly.