Thursday, May 8, 2008

Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff

Sam McKenzie lives in western New York with his grandfather, Mack, in an apartment above Mack’s woodworking shop. They share the building with two kind-hearted family friends: deli owner Onji and Indian Restaurant owner Anima. Sam, who cannot read words but has a gift for “reading wood,” is already on his way to becoming an expert woodworker. Sam is content with a life filled with delicious hot pastrami sandwiches and spicy chicken curry, but he is inexplicably afraid of the number 11. He is haunted nightly by dreams in which the number 11 appears in addresses and symbolically in castle turrets and brick chimneys. The day before his eleventh birthday, he sneaks into the attic to find his birthday presents, and instead finds a newspaper article with his photo as a toddler that reads “Sam Bell: Missing.” Unable to read the clipping himself, he seeks out the new girl at school, Caroline, who always has her face in a book and lipstick on her braces. They get paired up to create a castle for their classroom’s medieval feast, and together they begin building the castle that haunts Sam’s dreams. When Mack steps out to deliver furniture, they sneak into the attic to find more clues about who Sam really is. Caroline, whose family of artists move every few months, reminds Sam that they have to hurry. She quickly proves herself to be a good detective as well as a loyal friend. As clues pile up, time runs short, and Caroline’s mother announces they will move one last time as her father takes a teaching position at a college. Will they figure out the secrets of Sam’s origin in time? Is Mack really Sam’s grandfather? Can you only have one gift in life, or can Sam have the other gifts he longs for, like a true friend, to stay with Mack forever, and the ability to read?

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