Here’s the other Avi book I read over sping break. I just adore him and freely admit he has had a very strong influence on my writing. Once a Newbery winner and twice a Newbery honor winner, his works include some of my favorite titles ever. Though I’ve liked some better than others, I’ve yet to be disappointed by any.
I have to confess, this one is different, and at first I wasn’t sure I would like it. (It does actually have words though.) It starts out with the same rich, powerful sense of setting that Avi is known for, but this one is a very dismal setting. Granted, the Middle Ages were a very dismal time. Avi goes to great lengths to describe the stinking, filth-strewn city and the horrid, depraved old man named Thorston. Nearing death, Thorston brews a potion that will renew his life. However, it will steal the life of his young servant girl, Sybil.
I was hooked. And I wasn’t disappointed.
I loved watching Sybil’s growth. Weak, frightened, and helpless, at first she and a talking raven named Odo believe Thorston is making gold. And so does the rest of the town. Despite the threat of a crooked magistrate who wants the gold for himself, Sybil begins to use her wit and intelligence to find the gold and survive when she fears Thorston has died. It is Sybil’s transformation drives the story.
Billed as a fable, with its peculiar style and talking bird, The Book Without Words also has a moral at the end. It isn’t said as much as it’s shown, but it comes through loudly. The old alchemist, Thorston, is pursuing life simply to go on living. The young girl, Sybil, fights because she wishes to experience life. But Odo the bird sums up the story well when he replies to Thorston’s claim that he has outwitted death:
“Ah, Master,” said the bird with a shake of his head, “what good was that life, if, by avoiding death, you didn’t live?”
I absolutely love this one! And The Book Without Words is less than 5 bucks on Amazon.