Friday, August 26, 2011
Review - The Skull of Truth by Bruce Coville
Short review: A boy with passing familiarity with the truth acquires a magical skull that compels him and everyone around him to be completely honest, with disastrous results.
Charlie steals a skull
And he has to tell the truth
Instead of lying
Full review: The Skull of Truth is part of the Magic Shop series of books featuring the mysterious magic shop of the mercurial Mr. Elives. As usual, the protagonist, a young man named Charlie, is beset with troubles - mostly involving his efforts to save the local swamp from development, and as a result he has been telling lies about the developer, who is the father of one of his classmates named Mark. In general, Charlie seems to have a hard time telling the truth, and as a result, nobody believes him.
As usual for these books, after a run-in with Mark, serving as the antagonist for this installment of the series, and his assorted gang members, Charlie finds himself in an unfamiliar part of his town standing outside Mr. Elives magic shop. Inside he meets the testy Mr. Elives and becomes enamored of a skull on display. Without understanding why, Charlie steals the skull, and his adventures begin.
Charlie later gets a message from Mr. Elives (delivered by his two talking rat messengers Jerome and Roxanne) warning him of the powers of the skull. It turns out the skull is the Skull of Truth (and also the skull of Yorick of Hamlet fame), and by asking it a question, Charlie opened up communication with it. The Skull can't tell a lie, nor can the owner. Eventually, anyone near it is compelled to tell the truth. Charlie soon learns the drawbacks of always telling the truth: first offending Gilbert, a friend of his recovering from cancer, and then revealing his affection for Karen, a girl in his class.
However, like most of the magic shop books, Charlie's magical McGuffin is intended to teach him a valuable lesson (even though Mr. Elives apparently didn't know he was going to grab it and run out of the shop, a twist new to the series), and through the rest of the book, he learns the value of being truthful with those around you. He learns how to ask for forgiveness, and his efforts to make up for harming Gilbert end up helping Gilbert more than he could have if he hadn't been truthful to begin with. Charlie also learns that when one tells people how you feel, it usually works out to your benefit in the long run. After a humorous scene in which Charlie's family airs outs all their family secrets (unknowingly under the influence of the Skull), Charlie figures out how to use the power of truth to save his swamp, and eventually reconciles with Mark.
The story has a cameo by Jennifer Murdley from Jennifer Murdley's Toad, although you have to be paying attention to notice it. The story has a few minor twists, and the eventual fate of the Skull and Charlie is somewhat unexpected, but not out of character for the magic shop books. Charlie ends up wiser for his experience, and a young reader will probably end up having thoroughly enjoyed the story.
Previous book in the series: Jennifer Murdley's Toad
Subsequent book in the series: Juliet Dove, Queen of Love
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