Review of the Day: The Body Thief by Stephen M. Giles
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets The Mysterious Benedict Society. If those words are mere gobblety-gook to you and don’t mean a thing, don’t worry. You can rectify that situation by either reading both of those books, or you can simply opt for perusing The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom: The Body Thief instead. It has all the disposable child elements of Charlie mixed with the can-do attitude and problem solving of a good Benedict Society. All that’s left is to throw in trained alligators and a villain that revels in his villainy and you’ve got yourself a book that is fun. Fun is worthy. Fun is sometimes hard to find in children’s literature. Fun is what it is, and no one can argue against it. This book has it.
The Winterbottom Family Tree found at the beginning of the book tells you much of what you need to know. Generally speaking, Winterbottoms meet strange ends. If they’re not killed by volcanoes or trampled by elephants then they vanish climbing Mt. Fuji or end up poisoned. Adele Fester-Winterbottom, Milo Winterbottom, and Isabella Winterbottom are all cousins. Their parents are siblings to their uncle Silas Winterbottom, a decrepit old man who also happens to be filthy rich. Now Silas is dying and he has called these three children to his side. One of them is going to get his enormous fortune. He would just like to get to know the kids better before he decides which one is most worthy. As it happens each child has their own reason for hurrying to Silas’s side. One child has gone out of fear. One has gone out of greed. And one has gone out of revenge. But when push comes to shove, these apparent rivals for the Winterbottom fortune will join together to crack the mystery of why old Silas really wants them in his home. And the answer is bound to be treacherous.
We call books like Silas gothic, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s a better term for this. Indeed the word feels overused these days. Kids don’t know what it means and adults don’t half the time either. Generally speaking, your average Gothic hero or heroine will at some point attempt to escape a castle, a manor, or a boarding school of some sort. A Series of Unfortunate Events manages at least two out of three of these in the course of the series. Silas has one. You get extra points if you include a crypt at some point. Silas has that. And really, you’re absolutely good to go if the book can include a little murder and somebody reading a mysterious will. So it is that for all my protesting, Silas is one of the most perfect little Gothic children’s novels to come down the pike. It’s right up there with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and others of that ilk.
My husband is a screenwriter and he once came up with the twelve different kinds of villains that exist. I looked at this list recently to see whether or not Silas Winterbottom fit any of the molds. The problem then became not that he didn’t fit any of them but that he fit too many! In the end I settled on seeing Silas as “The Corruptor”. Sure he’s got a bit of a psychopathic nature to him (feeding children to alligators counts here) and sure he was once “The Ambitious Businessman”, but in the end the point of Silas in this book is the fact that he is using his advantage to corrupt his hitherto unknown nieces and nephew. The more they fight amongst themselves, the better he likes it. Giles is fully aware of this aspect to Silas’s personality, as it happens, because it allows the children to create a secret weapon to defeat their uncle. Your villain always has to misjudge their enemy. In this particular case, Silas is incapable of seeing that the children will be able to bring him down if they overcome their differences and join together. That’s a nice bit of plotting there, Mr. Giles. Well done.
The book’s title suggests that there will be future episodes in the tales of these Winterbottoms, and certainly the ending is left open for more stories. That said, Giles is good enough to wrap up his storylines here and not leave us hanging. I’m sick to death of books in series just leaving plot points swaying in the wind these days. Drives me batty. Silas in contrast manages to be both a complete story and one that makes you want to read the sequel. Particularly since Milo’s parents died under mysterious circumstances and their bodies were never found. Oh ah? In any case, this book is just the right combination of darkness and fun.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent from publisher.
This one comes to us via Australia. I kind of love it. Takes silhouette to a whole new level.
Other Blog Reviews:
- There’s a Book (with cool images of the characters!)
- The Boy Reader
- Milk and Cookies: Comfort Reading
- The Brain Lair
- Red House Books
- Michelle and Leslie’s Book Picks
- Bri Meets Books
- Reading, Writing, and Waiting
- Smitten With Books
- Young Adult Books Central
- Bellas Novella
- Spot to Read
- This is amusing and original. Over at Writing From the Tub we have an interview with the titular character himself. Mr. Winterbottom, you have the floor.
- A little more expected is an interview with Mr. Giles at Graffiti Wall.
- Can’t decide if you want it? Read an excerpt from the first chapter on this site.
- Or you could just read some of it on Google Books.
- Also be sure to check out the author’s website where additional Winterbottom info is housed.
Filed under: Reviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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