Bob by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead, illustrated by Nicholas Gannon, 200pp, RL 3
Told in chapters that alternate voices, Bob by Wendy Mass Rebeca Stead, with illustrations by Nicholas Gannon, is a gentle mystery layered with themes of friendship, memory and magic. And, being a mystery, it is challenging to write a review of this rare and marvelous book without giving too much away. In the interest of sensitive readers, a paragraph at the end of this review will reveal the mystery.
It's been five years since Livy, now almost eleven, visited her grandmother in Australia and her return comes with anxiety and an instant stomachache. Since the birth of her sister, Beth Ann, Livy can't tolerate being separated from her mother. But, part of her family's visit means being left alone with Gran on her now drought-plagued farm while Livy's mother and the baby travel to visit old friends. What Livy doesn't remember is that she has an old friend of her own waiting in the closet of her mother's old bedroom. Dressed in a poorly-made chicken suit is a short, green skinned, hairless creature with big, "melted-chocolate brown eyes," not eyelids, a nose and white teeth. Bob has been waiting in the closet where five-year-old Livy told him to wait, saying she'd be right back. While he waited, Bob built a Lego pirate ship, "sixty-three times. In the dark." He also counted to 987,654,321 six times, read the dictionary during the 26 minutes of light that filtered through the crack in the door each day, cried occasionally and tried to think of all the reasons why Livy did not come back for him. But Livy has no memory of Bob. Hurt, Bob thinks, "All I did for five years was remember, and all she did was forget."
There is a reason that Livy forgot, and she and Bob spend the next chapters revisiting the places they explored when she was there last, hoping to find clues that will jog her memory and also help her to return Bob to his family and home, as she promised to do when she was there last. Livy senses that part of the mystery has to do with the well on the farm and her fear of it, but it isn't until the final chapters of the book that all the pieces of the puzzle come together in a breathtaking, tearful moment that wondrously ties all the threads of this story together.
A photograph of five-year-old Livy shows her holding a book of fairy tales with a green character on the front that looks just like Bob, sending them on a hunt for the book that might give them answers. Danny, a young neighbor who's older sister borrowed the book, believes that the creatures from the well in the book are real and can end the drought that threatens his father's farm. When Danny goes missing, Livy searches for him with Bob in tow and they find him at a well where Bob is reunited with his mother and is able to remember how he was separated from her. Bob left his well to rescue five-year-old Livy, who had fallen in. Leaving the well, Bob lost his ability to remember his family and where he came from. Separated from Bob, Livy was unable to remember anything about him. The well-dwellers are compassionate, benign creatures and part of loving families. While the sadness that Bob's mother felt during his disappearance is tangible, they joy in their reunion is greater and should be soothing to sensitive readers.