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Review: The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, Reif Larsen

Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is a twelve-year-old genius living on a farm in the midwest.  His mother, Dr. Clair, is a scientist searching for a rare beetle.  His father is a farmer and cowboy.  T.S. likes to think of himself as a mapmaker.  He doesn’t just draw maps of land, though, he draws maps of everything from facial expressions to gunshots.  One day, he takes a phone call from the Smithsonian Institute and discovers that he has been selected for the prestigious Baird award, for which his friend Dr. Yorn has nominated him.  That phone call prompts T.S. to sneak on trains in his quest to get to Washington, D.C., to give a speech and accept his award.  Along the way, he meets a number of strange characters and makes a series of important realizations about his life, his age, and most importantly, his family.

I’m not sure there are words to describe how I felt about this book.  I haven’t seen many blog reviews around and I’m really wondering why.  This book is phenomenal.  T.S. is a stunning character.  He is clearly a genius but clearly a child at the same time; he makes amazing conclusions but then his child-logic can’t always keep up with his scientific mind.  I found this fascinating.  I’m no genius, but I truly felt that with T.S. I was having a peek into the mind of someone like Stephen Hawking, although much more understandable.

This book isn’t for people who dislike footnotes, though.  Me, I love footnotes, and this book is full of them, although usually on the sides, along with T.S.’s maps and observations.  In my opinion, these little asides added immeasurably to the main story even if they required me to read a little bit slower.  They flesh out this little boy’s world and show us how he works, who he is friends with, and sometimes illuminate larger questions in the novel; for example, his facial diagrams allow us to see the way his father appears when he looks at T.S. in a way that words could not really match.  The maps allow us to slowly feel the depths of pain which T.S. has been experiencing since his brother, Layton, killed himself; so much is revealed in that sibling relationship not through words, but through the implied sharing and affection in certain maps and footnotes.  My favorite of all of the asides, though, was probably the three-prong diagram of why McDonald’s appeals to adolescent boys.

I also really, really loved the backstory behind T.S.’s family which is covered towards the middle of the book in sections which were from a notebook T.S. stole from his mother.  Having had no inkling of his mother’s writing talent, T.S. is startled to discover that she has been writing a novel of the life of one of his ancestors.  I loved this story-within-a-story, both because it felt like historical fiction, my favorite genre, and because it revealed so much to T.S. about his mother, who has many more secrets than she lets on.  I can’t say that it moved the plot forward, but I never minded at all.

In the end, this was a wonderful, quirky, endearing story about a boy who figures out what his family means to him and, in the meantime, starts to grow up on his journey east.  It might not be for everyone, considering the lengthy footnotes and digressions from the main plot, but I loved every minute, especially after T.S. sets off.  I was in the mood for an ambitious story and I certainly got one.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

This book is available from Amazon and Amazon UK.  I also highly recommend checking out the book’s website.  It’s very cool and may give you a better insight into the book’s personality.  If you have already, it has just been updated, with a special song written just for T.S.’s sister Gracie, so it’s definitely worth another look!

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