Wednesday, March 07, 2007

review: The Skull of Truth by Bruce Coville

The Skull of Truth by Bruce Coville. Illustrated by Gary A. Lippincott. Harcourt Brace, 1997; 2002 (0-15-204612-7) $17.00; 2007 (978-0-15-206084-8) $5.95 pb

In the third "Magic Shop" book, a boy named Charlie finds his way to Mr. Elives' shop and is irresistibly drawn to an item that's not for sale: a human skull. To his own astonishment, he steals the skull--but that's nothing to his astonishment when its eyes begin to glow and it starts to talk to him.

The skull turns out to be none other than Yorick--Coville just can't seem to stay away from Shakespeare!--and he's really more annoying than frightening, always cracking bad jokes and keeping Charlie up at night. But one aspect of owning the skull is far more than just annoying: it forces Charlie, and anyone near it, to speak nothing but the absolute truth. Soon Charlie has badly hurt the feelings of a sick friend, seriously offended that school bully and learned some uncomfortable secrets about his family. Even when he tries to put Yorick to good use, by forcing a developer who wants to destroy his favorite swamp into full disclosure, the result isn't quite what he expected. Truth turns out to be much more complicated than Charlie ever thought.

The Skull of Truth gets a little crowded with subplots, including the history of Charlie's reputation as a liar, his friend's cancer, and his favorite uncle's unexpected "outing" at an all-too-truthful family dinner. But Coville juggles everything skillfully, tying most of the subplots together for a poignant and thought-provoking ending. Like the previous "Magic Shop" books, this is a fast-paced, easy read that also fulfills a longing for more meaningful themes. (8-12)

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