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Hamptons Life

Dec 19, 2017 12:36 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Review: Simon Von Booy Crafts A Fantasy Book Aimed At Children But Fascinating For All Readers

Jan 2, 2018 10:37 AM

Simon Van Booy is one of the most talented writers of fiction working today. He is a winner of the Frank O’Connor Short Story Prize, the most prestigious and the most lucrative prize for that genre. He also is a graduate of the Southampton College writers program and lived for many years on the East End.His latest venture is a children’s book, “Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things” (Razorbill Penguin Random House, 248 pp, $16.99). It is the last thing this reader would ever have expected from him—but it is magical in the way that “Harry Potter” is magical. Mr. Van Booy has created a world unlike anything you have ever experienced.

The tale begins with 12-year-old Gertie Milk being washed up on the shore of a strange and mysterious island. She is suffering from amnesia and can’t remember anything that came before that moment. She isn’t even sure that she is Gertie Milk, except for the fact that the name was sown into her dress.

How it got there and how she acquired it are the mysteries with which Mr. Van Booy begins his story.

She is greeted by large birds with rudimentary wings galloping through the fog across the sand. At first, she is fearful, but she soon learns that they are not dangerous and like to have their furry heads stroked. (A hint: they are dodoes.)

Soon, however, she encounters something that is dangerous: It is a giant earthworm. The fact that the worm is chasing her and the tide is coming in gives her renewed energy to move up the rocks at the edge of the beach.

The rocks are riddled with caves that go deep into the earth. As she proceeds into a cave, she discovers that she has a key in the pocket of her frock with the initials “K.O.L.T.” etched into it. The farther she goes, the more excitedly the key vibrates. The key is directing her, by its vibrations, how she is to negotiate the path through the cave.

Suffering with an overwhelming weariness, she sits down on a rock, at which she hears a voice say, “I wouldn’t sit there if I were you.”

It continues:

“Gertie jumped up in fright, not knowing which way to run.

“‘Unless, of course,’ the voice went on, ‘you’d enjoy getting torn limb from limb by a creature so awful that it ripped apart the letters of its own name, so that no one would know it exists.’”

Apparently, the tiny man is usually not a tiny man, but he accidentally spilled a reducing powder on himself. He had another powder that restored him to normal size.

The island of Skuldark, for that is what it is, is filled with unusual creatures, like slug lamps—living flashlights, as it were—the dodoes, and the killer worm, to say nothing of the creature that tore apart the letters of its name.

The formerly little man is named K.O.L.T. The are the same initials on Gertie’s key. It seems that K.O.L.T. and she are designated “Keeper of Lost Things.”

Their job it is to find things that have unfortunately disappeared. Finding them requires time travel, which they do in a classic green Jaguar, which tends to break down at unfortunate times; on one occasion, they were in Alexandria and pursued by an army riding huge, ferocious elephants.

Less dangerous was the trip back in time to 250 BCE to restore, to the mathematician Eratosthenes, the string and the stick with which he determined the circumference of the earth.

The two go back to the 1920s to restore a watch to Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the English Channel. They go forward in time to a Los Angeles in which the entire population lives in spaceships, because the earth itself is uninhabitable. There are mentions of an “Information War” in the future.

Along the way, our two protagonists manage to bring with them, from one stratum of time to another, a lifelike toy with a fondness for mashed potatoes, Robot Rabbit Boy.

Gertie and K.O.L.T. take their instruction from BDBU, like James Bond’s M—and I will reveal no more except to say that BDBU is kidnapped. The three companions must find it and release it.

They bring a sword to its maker in China’s Zhou Dynasty, and Gertie discovers an evil king who will become her most dangerous enemy and will introduce her to someone who might, or might not, give her a clue as to her real identity. It also indicates that there will be a sequel.

“Gertie Milk” targets the age group from 8 to 12, but I think anyone of any age would enjoy it if they have a taste for fantasy. In fact, it’s impossible not to continue turning its pages.

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