Author: Jennifer Trafton and Brett Helquist (Illustrator)
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Publication date: December 2010
Hardcover: 352 pages
Ten-year-old Persimmony Smudge leads (much to her chagrin) a very dull life on the Island at the Center of Everything . . . until the night she overhears a life-changing secret. It seems that Mount Majestic, the rising and falling mountain in the center of the island, is not a mountain at all-it’s the belly of a sleeping giant, moving as the giant breathes. Now Persimmony and her new friend Worvil the Worrier have to convince all the island’s other quarreling inhabitants-including the silly Rumblebumps, the impeccably mannered Leafeaters, and the stubborn young king-that a giant is sleeping in their midst, and must not be woken. Enhanced with Brett Helquist’s dazzling illustrations, Jennifer Trafton’s rollicking debut tells the story of one brave girl’s efforts to make an entire island believe the impossible.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): print
Why did I read this book: I SOMEHOW managed to miss rave reviews of this book when it first came out a few years ago and it wasn’t until I was browsing the shelves at The Strand when I was visiting Thea in NY that I came across it. I saw the cover, read the back copy and it just immediately won me over.
There on the Island at the Centre of Everything, where poison-tongue tortoises lie in wait to jump on unsuspecting passers-by, magic clay pots produce what you need (but not what you want) and the King’s castle sits on the top of the always moving up-and-down Mount Majestic, lives Persimmony Smudge, a bold and impetuous ten-year-old hat-aficionado who is about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.
It starts simply enough: with an accident and a broken pot. Determined to find a replacement before her mother finds out, Persimmony sets out at night through the woods to visit her pot-making friend. When she comes across a deadly tortoise, she hides inside a tree and happens to overhear a plot to dig for gold buried under the King’s castle, a plot to be carried out by the fearsome (yet impeccably mannered) underground dwellers Leafeaters. Armed with this information and aided by her new friend Worvil the Worrier, she sets out to inform the King – a pepper-lover bratty (but solitaire) 12-year-old – only to find out that this gold everybody is looking for? Might be nothing but a huge belt buckle that belongs to a sleeping giant and that the gold-diggers might be about to wake him up.
Not that the King believes her of course, because who would believe a 10-year-old girl? Now Persimmony needs to prove to everybody that the island is in serious danger.
The story is framed as a history book, told by the island’s Historian Professor Barnabas Quill and the writing is funny as well as engaging. The prose comes across in an almost conversational narrative that alternates between several characters (but principally Persimmony) as they all attempt to save the island (or sometimes, obstruct the island-saving shenanigans).
In the middle of all this fun, there are very thoughtful (but not overwhelmingly obvious) threads that are interwoven into the story: is the island really at the centre of everything? Either way you answer that question: what does that mean exactly? How does living in isolation have affected the lives of its inhabitants?
In a way The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic is a very straightforward quest that turns into a journey of self-discovery but it’s not only the characters’ journey but also the island’s. There is an interesting underlining point about History and history-writing, about silly assumptions made based on gender and class and Persimmony herself is a wonderfully bold heroine. And even though there is some slipping into quick moralising toward the ending, this didn’t detract from my enjoinment of this otherwise clever and charming book.
Bonus factor: the wonderful illustrations.
I imagine most kids would love this but here is something that might help some of our adult readers decide: The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic is an incredibly inventive, fun and thoughtful book, a mixture that really reminded me of books by Frances Hardinge and Terry Pratchett. This is quite possibly the biggest compliment I could ever give a new author and even though she is not quite up there yet, I can’t wait to read her next books.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: No quotes but here are some of the illustrations by Brent Helquist:
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: Gifts by Ursula Le Guin
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