The Trap by Steve Arntson, 245 pp, RL 4
I am so excited to read and review The Trap, Steve Arntson's third book! I loved his debut, the creepily marvelous post-apocalyptic tale, The Wikkeling, with amazing illustrations by the superb Daniela J. Terrazzini. His second book, The Wrap-Up List, is a stunning YA novel in which a sixteen-year-old chooses the things she wants to do in the week before her scheduled "departure" from a world where 1% of the population is chosen to knowingly meet their end. In his three books, Arntson has exhibited a phenomenal ability to write books with wildly different settings and fantastical aspects while always creating memorable characters you want to know more about.
The Trap intrigued me immediately because it recalled a book I read as a kid that involved astral projection as part of the plot and left a deep impression on me. It was probably Stranger with My Face by Lois Duncan, although none of the past covers match my spotty memory. Regardless, I was fascinated by the supernatural as a kid (remember In Search Of . . . hosted by Leonard Nimoy?) and thrilled to see this kind of out of body experience show up in a kid's book now. Arntson presents this phenomenon with seriousness, earnestness and adventure while layering in real life struggles and anxieties. The Trap is set in hot, dusty Farro, Iowa at the end of the summer of 1963. Narrated by Henry Nilsson, he and his twin sister Helen are about to start junior high. Despite their outward and personal differences, the siblings find themselves facing the same anxieties about friends, crushes and dances. They also find themselves faced with stress and anxieties at home as their parents, who work night shifts for the Burlington Norther Railroad, find their jobs in jeopardy. Money is tight and tensions are high, financial and racial, with the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom approaching. On top of this, Helen's best friend, Nicki, is the child of immigrants from China, and Henry's best friend, Alan, is Native American. All this alone could make for a riveting story, but Arntson introduces Carl, Alan's older brother, who is behaving erratically and violently before he disappearing one night.
In the camp where Carl was hiding, the four friends find a box of damp paperback books with titles like AIRMAN CRUSADER VERSUS THE CENTIPEDE KING by an author named A. Møller. There is also a book with a plain, black cover co-written by Møller and a man named J. Brody titled Subtle Travel and the Subtle Self. Following the book's detailed instructions, Henry finds himself, with some difficulty and effort, standing beside his bed looking down at himself. Soon after, all four friends are exploring the subtle world, looking for Carl and stumbling into a very dangerous trap. In the real world, the four befriend the recently widowed Maria Brody, wife of the co-author of Subtle Travel and the Subtle Self, and co-author herself, along with her husband, of a series of popular travel guides called, International Understanding Travel Guides that were written with the intent of inspiring and spreading universal acceptance and an end to intolerance of people who are different. With her help, they learn more about the authors and what might have happened to Carl.
Arntson's writing is marvelous and often poetic, as in this sentence," The musical branches called down from overhead, as if to warn that whatever happened from here on out would be our own fault." I could see Farro easily and feel the heat of the summer. Helen and Henry are equally opposite and intriguing. Henry's favorite television show is called, "The Dead of Night," and is a Twilight Zone, thought provoking series that leads him to look at the world from a different perspective. Henry is an observer. He hangs back, assesses the situation, weighs the pros and cons and writes things down to help his thought process. Helen is all action, movement and energy. For her, writing things down "was like standing around after hearing the starting gun." In a really lovely twist, a special gift given to Henry that will only reveal itself at a specific moment turns out to be the start of a book that he will write. The book is titled, "The Trap," and the final sentences already written serve as the end to The Trap and close the book perfectly: "My heart fluttered in my chest, and the pen felt shaky in my fingers. The whole universe unfolding, Mr. Brody had said - like a story written out. I was going to have to think about this."
Steve Arntson's other books:
Source: Review Copy