Thursday, January 19, 2012

Clues from the Past

In The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet, history holds the clues to an unsolved mystery. And what could be better for two modern teens with a sense of adventure than a puzzle that began generations ago? The author threads together elements of the French Resistance, two competing scientists, and children who disappeared--which no one in Paris wants to discuss.

In fact, it seems that 13-year-old Maya Davidson and her new friend Valko are the only ones who care about the unsolved mystery of the missing children. As Maya tries to help her “invisible” Cousin Louise locate the relative who “rescued” Louise as a child, Maya and Valko discover clues that point to a disturbing underlying cause for both Louise’s “invisibility” and the missing children.

Nesbet maps out plenty of paths for readers to follow if their curiosities get the better of them. What was the French Resistance? Who were these scientists (whom the author bases on actual men)? And along more abstract lines, is there a difference between people who appear to be invisible and people we ignore? How far would you go to be physically beautiful or handsome? What would you be willing to give up? What would it be like to live forever? To outlive your parents, your siblings, even your own children?

Nesbet raises all these questions and more. Very early in the book, Henri’s grandmother decides that the emotional pain of one of her sons betraying the other son is too great, so she embraces her mortality. She removes her bottle of earth from the cabinet and allows her natural aging process to run its course. She lives out her life (mostly to be there for young Henri), but she chooses not to live forever. This book is a terrific conversation starter with your children. What gives life meaning? If you could live forever, what do you think would begin to be less valuable to you? More valuable?

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