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A Thief in the House of Memory
by Tim Wynne-Jones
Dec hasn’t seen his mother for six years. Having moved into a new home with his father, Dec rarely visits the old family home, until one day he makes a horrific discovery there – a man crushed to death in the hall. Was it an accident or is it more than a coincidence that Dec recognizes the would-be thief? Suddenly the house is alive with memories, prompting Dec to investigate the past and piece together the puzzle which will reveal the elusive truth about his mother’s disappearance.
“a thought-provoking and gripping read for teenagers”
Elspeth S. Scott, School Librarian Journal
Key Stage: KS3/4; Age 10+ (info)
198 x 130mm
Tim Wynne-Jones began his writing career one summer holiday using a rented Smith Corona electronic typewriter. He entered his first mystery thriller, "Odd’s End", for the Seal First Novel Award; it won first prize and $50,000, and Tim decided "this writing thing might be fun".
Since then, he has won numerous awards including the Governor General’s Award, twice; the Canadian Library Association’s Children’s Book of the Year Award three times; the American Library Association Popular Paperback for Young Adults, and the Edgar Award of the Mystery Writers of America for The Boy in the Burning House.
Tim hit the headlines and gained a place in the Guinness Book of Records by taking part in the biggest author reading ever, when along with J.K. Rowling and Kenneth Oppel he read to an audience of 20,000 at the Toronto Sky Dome. Tim lives near Perth, Ontario, in a house he designed himself, which sits on 76 acres of rough and tumble landscape.
Awards won by Tim Wynne-Jones:
* Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award
* Crime Writers of America "Edgar" Trophy for best mystery story of the year for young adults
* Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children Award (twice)
* Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature
* Boston Globe-Horn Book Award
* Shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize
Visit www.timwynne-jones.com to find out more.
A THIEF IN THE HOUSE OF MEMORY
Picture a boy’s room. There is a bed shaped like an enormous red running shoe. The comforter is a golden map of the world. The curtains match the comforter but have faded. Time does that; fades things. The windows are deep, with cushions. A place to curl up with a comic book or a thought you need to think.
This boy is a builder. Models hang from invisible threads, ready to dive-bomb his dreams. A Lego skyscraper sits on a low table. Action figures patrol a nearby shelf – transformers in various states of transformation.
He is a dreamer. Above the bed is a framed picture of a house the boy drew when he was not even nine. A dream house. There is a book open on the bedside table. He might have just stepped out to get a glass of water.
Where is he? What’s keeping him?
The curtains flutter. It’s an April night. One window is open just a crack.
Listen. Someone is outside, someone walking too close to the shrubbery, checking a window latch, checking a door handle. There is silence again and then, suddenly, the splintering of wood. The sound is muffled, over in a second. Above the bed a Super Star Destroyer clicks against the Millennium Falcon.
Reach up and still the starships. Look at your fingers. They are black with dust. Run your finger over the jacket of the book. See the picture brighten under your touch? The boy hasn’t slept in this room for four years.
No one has slept in this house for four years. There is no one at home. No one to hear a stranger break in, a thief with this whole, vast house to himself. Listen at the bedroom door. Open it. Quietly. The lights are out but there is a thin, wavering beam of light in the grand entrance hallway below.
Something has caught his interest. It is not easy to reach, by the sound of it. He seems to be struggling. He goes, returns. Now it sounds as if he is climbing. And then there is a rumbling sound, a furious shout, a thundering crash. A tremor runs through the old place. You can feel it buzzing in the bones in your feet.
Maybe this is how it all started – what stirred up the memory. For memories are like dust, in a way. They settle over time, almost invisible, but still there. Waiting.
Tim Wynne-Jones' previous work has been described as 'psychological drama' and this is no exception. A cast of memorable and unusual characters from Dec's little sister Sunny through his classmates at school to his friends Ezra and Vivien and his stepmother-in-waiting Birdie allow us to see Dec from different perspectives and we really care about the outcome. This is a thought-provoking and gripping read for teenagers, and well worth promoting.
Elspeth S. Scott, School Librarian Journal
Dec's mother apparently left without saying goodbye, driving off into the night, six years before and his father has erased her from his life and taken on a new house while leaving the old one like a museum on the hill above them. When there is a burglary at the old house and the strange death of the burglar, all the mysteries of the past re-emerge for Dec, making him review his memories as he finds himself seemingly baulked by others' refusal to let him know what happened. Memories of his mother are coloured by his fondness for her and the liveliness of her manner, her clothes and her games. His father, by contrast, seems grey and withdrawn. Fascinatingly, the memories, re-seen and relived by the older Dec, come with new interpretations and possibilities to make the past a shifting, doubtful arena for understanding. What happened to his mother and the truth of the burglar's death are mysteries to be solved. Wynne-Jones' gift here is to make memory itself a tangible subject for a mystery novel which is always actively exciting and thought-provokingly different like the wonderful gallery of characters, especially Vivien, who provide a wonderful oddity to the thoughtful exploration of the past, of memory, growing up and growing into the future.
Books for Keeps
This is a well-paced story, following Dec through the adventure which follows from his discovery in the old house as well as his worries about his mother's disappearance and his father's suspicious behaviour. The mystery centres on the old house and intermittent memories that haunt Dec about the time when his mother was there. Dec's small sister brings out a warm side to Dec, and his friendship with equally clever boys at school, one of whom helps him to work through his concerns and feelings, makes this book a rewarding read, not least in showing that a bright, sensitive teenager can be a hero. This book could work very well for class reading. It should appeal to boys and girls, has a mystery element which keeps the reader's interest and explores family relationships very clearly. The ending satisfies all elements of the story. It is a first-class read.
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