“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Boneshaker • Middle-grade fiction (historical fanstasy)

The Boneshaker
by Kate Milford illustrated by Andrea Offermann 
May 2010 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Ages 10 and up
"This is one of those books that's a delight from start to finish, quirky but grounded, with characters you'll fall in love with." -- Charles de Lint, author of Little (Grrl) Lost  and The Blue Girl
Story:  Strange things can happen at a crossroads, and the crossroads outside of Arcane, MO, is no exception.  13-year-old Natalie Minks knows all the odd, mysterious tales about her little town -- she grew up hearing her mother tell them.  But even Natalie is not prepared for the strangeness that's unleashed when Doctor Hake Limberleg's Nostrum Fair and Technological medicine Show rolls into town with its bizarre tonics and elaborate, inexplicable machines.

Natalie loves machines.   She's fascinated by mechanical things of all sorts -- especially automata like the little clockwork flyer her dad is helping her build.  And when she finally gets a close look at the machines within the intricate maze of the medicine show, she knows in her gut that something about this caravan of healers is not right... and that Arcane is in grave danger.
Story behind the story:  This story about family, community, courage and the necessity of looking evil directly in the face to conquer it is Kate Milford's first novel.  And it's getting some enthusiastic pre-publication buzz like this from Colleen Mondor at ChasingRay.com: "I am reading Kate Milford's The Boneshaker and all of you who have heard early Newbery [Award] rumblings about this one would do well to heed them. It certainly has some Bradbury (ala Something Wicked This Way Comes) touches, but also a delightful bit of Wright Brothers bicycle invention/repair, Robert Johnson at the crossroads and Dewey Kerrigan (via The Green Glass Sea). I am most pleased with this one (about one third of the way through) and will have a review in my May column."

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.


Theresa Milstein said...

Good for Kate Milford that her first novel is getting buzz and high praise. Thanks for the post.

Julia Pitau said...

The Boneshaker was definitely a “quirky” read. Actually, it was a little too quirky for my liking which made it difficult for me to keep interested. However, I do believe there is an audience for this book. I will be anxiously awaiting the response of students once this book starts going out.

Picnic Rating: 2

Denair Charter Academy
Denair, CA

Megan B. said...

Good writing for a first-time author. The Boneshaker definitely has a quirky story like the previous poster noted, and I think the overall response will be positive.


Catherine Y. said...

I haven't quite finished "Boneshaker", but I love it so far. It reminds me a lot of Madeline L'Engle's books. There is a mystery that needs to be found amongst the battle of good versus evil.

I think kids will like the interest in Automatan and technolgy. Natalie is certainly having a hard time trying to figure out what is going on in Arcane with the medicine show and her own mother's health. At least she has good friends to help.

I give it a 4.

Catherine Yezak, Spec. Ed. Teacher, Marquette Area Public Schools

Anonymous said...

I found the Boneshaker a little difficult to get though. I think it will take a child with a vivid imagination to get through it. I also don't know if they will have the background knowledge needed to get an understanding of what is going on. I look forward to hearing what the students have to say about this book. The students who are advid readers like fantasy.

I give this story a 3 in my picnic basket.

Lemon the Duck said...

The author did a nice job of creating vivid imagery and unusual characters. However, the vocabulary and background knowledge required to fully comprehend the story was a drawback. This book is sure to be enjoyed by a specific audience but is not accessible to all readers. The story took a long time to get started and the action frequently halted by unimportant details, making it hard to stick with it to the end.
I liked the fact that the main character was a strong female.
I rate this book a 3 out of 5.
Laura Backman
Hathaway School

Martine Battista said...

I liked the description of this book, but actually reading it...not so much. It was too confusing for me so I know our students would have a difficult time as well. I never felt compelled to keep reading. Instead I found myself backtracking every so often saying, "What?" "Huh?" I know this is a quirky read and is intended to be a bit weird, but it lacked the magic I was hoping for.

Rating: 2

Denair Elementary School Library
Denair, CA

Heather Hill said...

"The Boneshaker" was a difficult read for me. I felt like I was continually being led somewhere but I had no idea where I was going. The end explained it all, but you had to be really dedicated to get there. Unsure if kids will care enough about the characters to stick with it. I give this a 3 out of 5.

Heather Hill, Reading Specialist
Enterprise Elementary
Woodbridge, VA

se7en said...

This book was received with great enthusiasm... Judging a book by the cover I love the illustrations. I began it and find myself plodding through the middle of it. I think Natalie Minks is a fabulous character... a great hero for the book. I like her passion for things mechanical and her down to earthiness. But the story just isn't doing it for me. It is just a bit weird - I thought maybe I was a bit old for it and maybe I was losing touch with young reads... I gave it to my twelve year old son to read and he thought it was "okay", loved the spunky girl and the technology and read it because he reads everything. He reckons he would read it from the library but wouldn't buy it. And the story is a bit weird he wouldn't lend it to a friend. So I may force myself to finish it or just read the last chapter.
I would rank this one a 2.

Anonymous said...

I liked The Boneshaker by Kate Milford. Plot-wise it reminded me of Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. A creepy medicine show sets up in the town of Arcane in 1913 and strange things start to happen to the residents of the town. As an adult, I have the patience to stick with the quirky plot and strange characters, I'm not sure how many of my students will. Probably best suited for older middle grade kids (5, 6th grade) who are good readers and have read similar fantasy-type stories. I really like the spunky heroine, Natalie Minks, who worries that adults won't believe her suspicions of the "Doctor" running this medicine show. I'd give it a 4 out of 5.

Wayne said...

Quirky book and an interesting story for a first time author. Haven't QUITE finished it yet, but I'm getting there and have really enjoyed the book so far. I'd give it 3/5 based on where I am at this point.

Elementary and Middle School Librarian

dmuldawer said...

From the description of The Boneshaker, I was quite interested and tore into the book the moment it arrived. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm soon turned to an overwhelming sense of ennui. If I hadn't promised to write a review for Picnic Basket, I doubt I would've even gotten through the book.

The Boneshaker constantly flits between times and characters and situations. At the end, it's clear who's who and what happened but it's not easy to get there and the whirlwind shifts keep the reader from identifying strongly with one character or another.

The book might have been stronger if it had focused on Limberlegs as the protagonist. The idea of someone selling his soul to do good, only to end up doing evil, exposes the fundamental Jeckyl/Hyde dilemma we all face.

To be honest, I can't see any child devouring this book and there's not enough literary strength in it to be used as a classroom resource.

Kudos to Kate Milford for getting published, but as a buyer I'm going to have to pass.

Picnic Basket Rating: 2

Mary Hyson said...

I thought that this was a good effort for a first time author. Kept my attention, even if it was hard to follow at times. I think that it would be good for 8th grade and up - however a good first effort.

Picnic Rating - 4

Mary Hyson
Elementary Librarian

EShay said...

I just got the book so sorry this is a bit late.
It took a bit to get into. The second half went much more quickly. The automata reminded me of Hugo Cabret - might be a way to get kids into it. The book also reminded me of Something Wicked This Way Comes.
I thought it was a decent attempt by a first time author. It is rather scary and I am not sure I would want all students to read it individually; it raises some questions about good vs. evil and heaven and hell that I would want my children to be able to ask someone. Not sure how this kind of questioning would play out in a public school.
I can see this making an interesting movie. The bicycles might entertain some children as might the historical connection.

I would give the beginning a 2 and the second half a 3.5.

Lisa Cindrich said...

I really enjoyed The Boneshaker, but it is a pretty sophisticated read for kids. The publisher advertises it as "ages 10 and up." I'd peg the readership more as beginning around 12 or 13 years-old. Milford does a great job creating a convincing sense of small-town life in 1913. She's equally adept at insinuating strands of the fantastic into this setting. I thought the world she created was completely believable. Natalie's feisty and tomboyish unconventionality is really appealing, as is her love for her family. Characters are well-drawn and complex. I also appreciated that her villains are genuinely creepy.

Drawbacks? Milford has a real flair for description, but the amount of it may turn off some readers. (Personally, I loved it.) The plot is also fairly complex and the mysteries underlying a number of characters remain a little too enigmatic for too long.

Boneshaker would tie in well to studies of folktales and the oral storytelling tradition, the history of medicine (patent medicines, mesmerism, phrenology, epidemics), inventors and inventions, mechanics (for example, there's some discussion about the possibility of a perpetual motion machine.)

I'd give it a solid 4. If you give it to the right readers (say, teens who love Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes), it should hit a home run.

Lisa Cindrich
Former YA/Adult Services Librarian
Kansas City, KS Public Library

Kim Watson said...

I, too, thought the storyline was a little hard to understand. I teach 4th graders, and I feel the age group listed for this book may be a little off track. I think some of my more advanced students with imaginations may enjoy it. I'm sorry that I didn't enjoy it as much as I have some of the other books I have received from publishers.
Rating: 3

Anonymous said...

This is a late post, it took a bit to get into the book. The first part of the book was very rough to get through, but once the Medicine Show was in town, I had a difficult time putting it down. I would give it a 3 out of 5 overall.

Sandra Stiles said...

I just went back to school and found the book in my box. I am glad I had the opportunity to read and review it. This story is set in 1913 and the main character is 13 year old tomboy Natalie Minks from Arcane, Missouri. She likes all things mechanical and helps her father. When she isn't helping him she listens to her mother who is a master story teller. Things plug along smoothly until the traveling medicine show comes to town. At this point I have to say the book reminded me of one of my favorite movies, "Something Wicked This Way Comes". Natalie must find a way to make the adults in the town believe her. She knows the "doctor" is not really who he claims to be. This was a fun and quirky book. It had history, fantasy, and a spooky, creepy feel throughout the book. I won't say this book is for everyone, but I believe I will have a large number of students who will appreciate this, especially if I pitch it just right. I give this book a 4 out of 5 because I know it requires some background knowledge that not everyone will have. Still, when all is said and done I enjoyed the book.

Nikki said...

I found the book quirky as well. It took to long to grab my interest. I continued reading but I am unsure if children will stick with it.

wordwarrior said...

What a compelling story! I just finished The Boneshaker, Kate Milford's first novel and I was hooked from the first chapter. This story conjured up a few stories from the past, Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked this Way Comes, is one example. Both stories deal with a small town where a form of evil is present through the form of a carnival. In Milford's it is a medicine show and in Bradbury's it is a carnival. The stories have different catalysts for the evil. In Milford's a young girl named Natalie learns to be brave and look evil in the eye to save her town and the residents she loves, including her talented story telling mother. I feel this book would be an excellent choice for any picnic and I would recommend it for any child young or old from about fifth grade and up. Kate Milford did a wonderful job for her first novel and I am anxious to read more novels from this author.

maningo said...

This was my first adventure into a steampunk type novel, however slight. I loved the premise of the crossroads and the devil, which was way out of my reading realm, but lead me to do some research on the Charlie Daniels song and boneshaker type bicycles. Natalie is an inventive, strong, and determined young lady in a time period when children were seen but not heard. Her ability to be a leader and question everything, even adults (her mom's illness) is a fabulous trait for teenagers to consider and think about. Natalie understands knowledge is power and the story definitely led me to question and do research.

I would not hesitate to recommend the book to boys or girls looking for an adventurous read (with historical sidelines)! 4 out of 5, 7th grade and up

Julie H. said...

I often like books that are a little bit different, and Boneshaker is certainly that. However, it just didn't move me and I found myself looking for excuses to read something else. I handed it to one of my students who reading everything and hhe handed it back saying, "Too confusing." A PB rating of 2 for me.

crau said...

I was anxious to get this one and had seen a review in a magazine also. It was tough to get into. That is why my post is so late. I tried many times to dig into it and just could not get hooked. It got better toward the middle. As a parochial school teacher, I can't recommend books that have demons and the devil as prominant characters. I'll have to go 1 star.

M Roseberry from ID said...

I enjoyed this book even though I didn't think I would. There are still some things I don't understand. For example, why Dr. Jasper continued to travel with the Paragons causing harm when that was not his original intention. But, whatever, Natalie is great, Old Tom is awesome, and I liked the potentially spiritual message. Sorry for the late post, I was a late reader. I give it a 3.5.

Sarah said...

My review is very late in coming. I received a copy of this book last year and then got caught up in life and haven't been able to read it until recently.

I give this book a 5 out of 5.

As a teacher that likes to challenge students, I found this book to be a very useful tool. It helps to build vocabulary, gives an example of a curious/thinking/questioning protagonist (a quality I encourage in all of my students), and builds historical and mechanical knowledge. In addition, it has great literary qualities in that, for one, it ends with the beginning and both points connected throughout the middles, and for two, it alludes to the Bible (which provides for more research opportunities).