Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

February 25, 2014

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy. Karen Foxlee. 2014. Knopf Books [Source: ARC provide courtesy of NetGalley]

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy came my way as a pre-approved book on NetGalley. I’d never heard of it and I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I absolutely loved reading this. It’s a substantial read and its plot and style are engaging throughout. While I found the plot enjoyable, the themes in the book were mature enough that I could appreciate them as an adult.

The story follows Ophelia and her older sister Alice while they accompany their father Malcolm as he facilitates the opening of an expansive sword exhibit at a museum. All are still coping with the death of the girls’ mother, Susan, three months prior. Ophelia is a timid girl who views everything through a scientific lens, which makes it so difficult for her to process the experience she has in the museum after she finds the Marvelous Boy in a locked closet.

The story is a retelling of the well-known Snow Queen, but it delves much deeper. It questions human nature; the nature of community, family, and friendships; and magic. There’s also a significant, albeit somewhat veiled, focus on death and grief. As you follow Ophelia, you’re able to watch her develop her own conscience by way of her memories of her mother. You’re never quite sure if it’s her mother’s ghost guiding her or if she’s channeling her mother’s personality to rationalize her actions. Either way, I found it exciting to watch her grow and gain confidence as she became more committed to the Marvelous Boy and her journey.

The story of the Marvelous Boy is actually a story within a story, but it’s done in such a way that you’re seamlessly taken from his time with Ophelia to his past experiences and back. Perhaps with the Marvelous Boy than with anyone else, the reader begins to understand the concept of hope in the face of complete hopelessness. I found myself getting more emotionally attached to the Marvelous Boy and his plight as the book progressed.

The most salient theme is that of death. More specifically, it tackles how people cope with loss and the memories of their loved ones. This is most apparent with Ophelia, as she counts the months, days, and hours since her mother’s death. As she grapples with the permanence of her mother’s death, she also learns the power of memory in several ways. The reader also sees how Ophelia’s sister and father cope; Ophelia’s resentment of them is borne from her youthful interpretation of her family’s grieving. As an adult reading, it was very obvious to see how each family member coped with the mother’s death, which eventually Ophelia began to see.

Because of its dark undertones, I would recommend this book for readers between 4th and 6th grade. This would be especially apt for someone who had someone close to them die. Overall, it’s a great book and it substantive enough to keep older readers interested and constantly turning the page. I was completely enthralled in it and would read it again.

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