Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy (2014) by Karen Foxlee
Suggested age range: 8 and up (Knopf Books for Younger Readers, 240 pages)
Rating: 5/5 stars
Source: Net Galley
Genre: Children’s, Fantasy
Release Date: January 28th, 2014
“Ophelia did not consider herself brave…Of course she couldn’t save the world. She was only eleven years old and rather small for her age, and also she had knock knees.”
The Book: In a foreign city, covered in snow, Ophelia and her sister Alice, spend their time in a museum while their father prepares for an important exhibit of swords. One day Ophelia discovers a boy (the marvelous boy) who is locked away, and requests that she help release him. He claims he is being held by the Snow Queen (who is going to destroy the world), and that wizards took his name, dubbing him the marvelous boy who would defeat the queen and save the world. He tells Ophelia that she must help him find a magical sword along with the “One Other.”
Ophelia possesses a scientific mind, and doesn’t believe in magic. However, she listens to the voice of her mother (who has recently passed away) and she braves challenges and dangers to help the marvelous boy. Slowly, Ophelia’s perspective about the supernatural changes. During her adventure in the museum, Ophelia faces misery birds, snow leopards, ghost children, and the cold curator, Miss Kaminski. The marvelous boy tells Ophelia his history throughout the book, creating a story within a story. Foxlee has crafted a creative narrative that reminds me of other works such as The King in the Window (2005) by Adam Gopnik and The Ghost in the Glass House (2013) by Carey Wallace, but yet it is certainly unique.
Spirituality in Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy: The revelation that she is brave and capable takes place gradually for Ophelia. Her logic often kicks in as she responds to the claim that there are ghosts and live snow leopards and misery birds on the seventh floor. When she sees such things, however, she believes. Her revelations of the supernatural aspect of reality then change the way she faces the next obstacle.
Ophelia hears the voice of her mother as she navigates the difficulties and fears tied up in helping the marvelous boy. This voice releases significant aid and wisdom during key moments for Ophelia and illustrates the importance of her mother in her life. There is a connectedness within this aspect of the story that is vital for Ophelia on her mission to help the marvelous boy. Certainly, Ophelia’s mother plays an important role in her spirituality. It is her mother who reminds Ophelia of the greatest weapon: love.
Exploring this Book with Readers: With allusions to the Snow Queen, fairy tales, and other supernatural concepts, this book could act as a jumpstart for readers to write their own fairy tales. Children could create entirely new tales, pulling elements from different stories, or follow a structure similar to the one in this novel. With laugh aloud moments, this story would also be perfect for reading aloud, whether it’s in a large group or between readers.
The Final Word: I had great hopes for this book when I first saw its cover (I’m a fan of Yoko Tanaka’s atmospheric drawings) and read its synopsis. I was not disappointed and enjoy the humorous tone underlying the narrative, as well as its many magical aspects. It was refreshing to read about Ophelia’s transformation from a skeptic to one who was ready to embrace her destiny. Those who enjoy a humorous fantasy with a fantastic villain and a story set in a maze-like museum should certainly pick up Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy.
“The strangest think I have learned is that it’s impossible to know what’s inside someone. The wizards didn’t teach me this, but I have learned it myself.” (The Marvelous Boy)
“But I got used to those wizards, who really are very kind. If you have heard it said that wizards eat nothing biscuits, then you have heard the truth.” (The Marvelous Boy)
“If she were a wizard, she’d write reports for people. She’d make sure everything was very clear. She’d write, Looking for a magical sword? No problem. Go to the fifth floor, turn left, open a large wooden chest, et cetera, et cetera. She’d have check boxes. Found your magical sword? Place X here.” (Ophelia)
“ ‘Should I think scientifically? ‘You should think with your heart,’ said her mother. ‘My heart?’ whispered Ophelia.” (Ophelia)