Monday, August 07, 2006

Drawing a Blank

:Or How I Tried to Solve a Mystery, End a Feud, and Land the Girl of My Dreams by Daniel Ehrenhaft and illustrated by Trevor Ristow is the latest title in in my personal quest to read more YA books this summer. Plucked from the newly arrived book cart, before cataloging, it caught my attention initially for two reasons, the graphic element of the dust jacket and it was a starred review in Booklist. I was also intrigued by the inclusion of an illustrator since, generally speaking, novels written for young adults do not have them beyond chapter headers and the cover.

Drawing a Blank is a first person narrative tale told by main character, Carlton Dunne IV. Carlton attends Carnegie Mansion School where he is a bit of a loner, living through his art. The son of a "lonely rich kid who decided to become an insane, self-employed architect because he loved to draw," Carlton obviously has a few issues. His father is recently divorced, believes fervently in a family feud dating back to medieval times, and to say they do not communicate is a kind exaggeration. Additionally, Carlton has impersonated his father, because the editor doesn't "have time to talk to some teenage dork who thinks he can draw comics," and as a result has his own comic strip, Singy the Superbad, published in the New England Sentinel.
Carlton gets a phone call from his father saying he's been kidnapped and when the phone is ripped from his hands, a Scottish voice intones he must "Bring the proof to Edinburgh." What follows is Carlton's quest to rescues his father from the evil Clan Forba. As traditional quests often go, he must travel to a foreign land, overcome various obstacles, conquer the fair maiden/vixen, retrieve the proof, and win out over his own fears.

Ehrenhaft gives Carlton a very realistic teenage voice and our hero is presented as glib, sarcastic, unbelieving, frightened, and above all, hopeful. A unique and clever aspect of this book is the presentation of Carlton's cartoon, Singy the Superbad, presented throughout. Each time Carlton is faced with a task to overcome, Singy is front and center helping to save the day. With Singy, we get to see another side of Carlton, almost his alter-ego. The graphic novel within the novel is very entertaining.

This book has a tendency to ramble during certain passages. I was a bit concerned when during the preface, Carlton himself warned readers:

"Before I get to that, though, I should warn you: There's a lot of ground I
need to cover up front, so it all makes sense later. Plus, there are a bunch of
seeds I need to plant for the end. So please hang in there at the beginning if
you can."

He was right, it did take quite a bit to endure the beginning and get to the meat of the story. And, the ending was somewhat abrupt after the long journey. All in all though, this will definitely appeal to YA readers.

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