Mike Mason, |
The Blue Umbrella
(David C. Cook, 2009)
The hero of Mike Mason's debut novel, The Blue Umbrella, is a lad named Zac Sparks, whose sudden plunge into the weird and oppressive world of Five Corners begins with the strike of lightning that kills his widowed mother.
Among the mysteries submerging the town of Five Corners are a number of folk whose strange sizes and manners speak of odd histories, a girl who refuses to speak, a pair of ageless Aunties whose influence keeps almost everyone in fear and a shopkeeper who constantly carries his entrancing blue umbrella. As Zac navigates the confines of his new position as orphan and stranger to this place, he seems to encounter nothing but brick walls and fearful omens. When he finally does begin to discover answers, they come with newer and still more puzzling dilemmas involving the natures of responsibility, willpower and the all-important mysteries of the weather.
Mason's experience as a writer allows his characters and settings an appreciable vividness, although at times his phrasing seems a bit beyond his target age group of 9- to 12-year-olds. However, his newness to this kind of narrative becomes apparent in the structure of this novel. The pacing grows almost meandering at times, and the driving force behind the main plot occasionally seems weakened rather than supported by the focus given to descriptions. Most importantly, however, the main part of this novel is given only to setup rather than to buildup. When the reader starts learning answers along with Zac, they fall logically into place with the previous information.
Nevertheless, the abruptness of these revelations coupled with the lack of clues given specifically to the reader makes it difficult to react emotionally as well as mentally to the crucial moments in The Blue Umbrella. No sense of anticipation or suspense intended just for readers is present to engage their emotions as well as their minds. Sympathizing with Zac's frustration at the beginning of the book is easy. However, without any warning or real buildup to the later answers makes it hard to enter into Zac's feelings as he reacts to them. They remain geared only towards Zac, instead of also toward Mason's readers, which in turn makes the culmination at the end of this book lacking in satisfaction.
In short, The Blue Umbrella is a well-written story, but not a compelling one. Without the buildup to draw readers into the significant turning points of Zac's experience, this book also fails to excite interest in the two proposed sequels to this work. On the other hand, this is a first attempt at narrative, and Mason's background as an established writer gives reason to expect improvement as he continues to write fiction novels.
2 January 2009
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