Saturday, November 18, 2006

Horns and Wrinkles - Joseph Helgerson

Joseph Helgerson's Horns and Wrinkles is an All-American fantasy tale, although set in the real world of the Mississippi River.

This story starts with a nasty boy named Duke dangling his cousin Claire off the Steel Girder Bridge just outside the town of Blue Wing. Claire's been the victim of Duke's bullying for a very long time, but on this day something changes. The next moment Claire is sailing serenely down the Mississippi River with a nice, orange tennis-shoe-wearing, old lady and Duke has a horn growing out of his nose. Everybody in Blue Wing, Minnesota, knows that if something weird happens, it's probably related to the Mississippi River as this part of the river causes all sorts of odd things to happen. Everything from fairy-sightings to incidents involving river or rock trolls, something that is no end of trouble to the town's residents. Shortly after Duke acquires his horn, his family is turned into stone and Claire finds herself in the company of some fast-talking nylon bicycle-suit-wearing river trolls. So Claire and Duke find themselves helping these odd creatures on their peculiar quest to ensure that Duke's family don't remain stone forever. Not that Duke cares - he loves having a horn and is desperate to become a member of the river troll "gang". So when Duke's horn gets bigger every time he bullies someone, he's happy.

One of the things that's nice about this book is how realistic it seems, even to someone who's never seen the Mississippi. There's a funny bit in the book involving the local sheriff, a man who's seen everything that's river-related and treats the fact that some people have been turned to stone as perfectly unsurprising. He says, "There's folks in this town that choose not to believe in fortunetelling catfish, or low-flying buffalo, or whatever ... I'll tell you straight out, I'm not one of them." A wise man !

There are some lovely descriptions in this tale: "Tree branches remained bare but you could smell spring cooking inside them" and, when a river troll is threatened with a most gruesome punishment, "And if there's any funny business, I'll turn you into books. Thick ones with no pictures and tiny print.", which gave me the giggles.

The characters are believable too. Duke is totally nasty. He's nasty on page 1, he's still nasty on page 101, and even on page 301 he's not managed to give up being nasty. But Duke isn't a one-note villain. He's a coward, and a liar, but he's also one hundred percent believable.

I also liked the river troll trio with whom Claire and Duke get involved; they're far deeper characters than I expected at the beginning of the story, especially Stump, for whom Claire develops some affection during the course of her adventures.

Do read this book - it's great fun, but also very thoughtful.

Horns and Wrinkles is also available from

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