Tuesday 19 January 2010

THE UNDROWNED CHILD by Michelle Lovric

It’s the beginning of the 20th century; the age of scientific progress. But for Venice the future looks bleak. A conference of scientists assembles to address the problems, among whose delegates are the parents of twelve-year-old Teodora. Within days of her arrival, she is subsumed into the secret life of Venice: a world in which salty-tongued mermaids run subversive printing presses, ghosts good and bad patrol the streets and librarians turn fluidly into cats. A battle against forces determined to destroy the city once and for all quickly ensues. Only Teo, the undrowned child who survived a tragic accident as a baby, can go ‘between the linings’ to subvert evil and restore order.

Wow, the cover for this book is gorgeous. I love the way that it captures the story, too.

When fate intervenes and Teodora (Teo) visits Venice with her parents, she's excited. Her parents happen to be scientists who have been invited to attend an emergency meeting to save the city. Teo knows that she's adopted but she loves her adoptive parents very much. And although she's grown up in Naples, she's always wanted to visit Venice. It's almost as if it's called out to her all of her life and she had no idea why.

As soon as she gets to Venice, strange things start to happen. She starts to notice mermaids just about everywhere, and when she's browsing in an old bookshop one of the books falls off the shelf and hits her head. She gets a concussion bad enough to end up in hospital. But when she wakes up in a cemetery and finds out that her parents think she's missing and no one can see her, she starts to think she might be dead. But she's not, and following the interactive instructions of the book called, The Key to the Secret City, she ends up at the House of the Spirits with Renzo -- a local boy she's befriended. Together they meet a group of brave mermaids who protect the city of Venice and need their help.

Together, Enzo and Teo embark on a quest to stop a madman -- Bajamonte Tiepolo -- from rounding up his evil allies so that he can return from the dead and complete what he failed in the past. He wants to drown and rule Venice. But not if Teo and Enzo have anything to do about it. They're willing to do whatever it takes.

I loved the way mythology and history were mixed together to form a very vivid and dark change to the city streets, right before the eyes of the locals and the tourists. Yet, none of the adults knew what was really going on because they couldn't see it. Teo was a lovely character who was confused and often melancholy, but winds up accepting and even embracing that she's the Undrowned Child, without ever hurting her adoptive parents.

The Undrowned Child is a highly imaginative book. It's also unique. It's a wild, wonderful, and very dangerous adventure that takes you all across Venice in a time before TV, computers, and the internet. It's also the story of a young girl who learns all about where she was born, while finding true friendship and always staying kind-hearted. The amazing mix of bizarre characters that make up this book were also intriguing and add to the magic.

This is a book that will capture the imagination of children and adults. It's definitely a story that I'll encourage my daughter to read in the next few years.

The Undrowned Child, October 2009, ISBN 9781842557020, Orion Children's Books Hardcover

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