lizard music feature

On Our Bookshelves – Lizard Music – A Review

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NOVEL: Lizard Music

AUTHOR: Daniel Pinkwater

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 1976

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I had forgotten about this book. When I recently interviewed Steve Sandberg, he mentioned it as a favorite, and a dim memory came, slightly, back to life. I decided to purchase a copy and was pleased to find out that Lizard Music was part of the New York Review Children’s Collection (and in their paperback series, NYRB Kids), which began in 2003 “in an attempt to reward readers who have long wished for the return of their favorite titles and to introduce those books to a new generation of readers.” It looks like they are succeeding admirably in this goal.

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Rereading Lizard Music was like catching up with a long lost friend. It concerns a preteen boy named Victor, left to his own devices for the summer while his parents vacationed and his irresponsible older sister took off on a camping trip. The story of Victor’s adventures is something like a combination of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Crying of Lot 49: here’s an intelligent, self-possessed, and very particular child in a big city and some mysterious, and possibly supernatural, occurrences. There’s some sly social commentary on racism and the insularity of the suburbs, there’s an intelligent chicken named Claudia, there are in fact lizards, lizards who make music, and speak English, and who are mostly (but not all) named Raymond, and the entire thing is bizarre, yet perfectly endearing.

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Cory Doctorow (science fiction author and blogger) is quoted on the back of the NYRB Kids paperback edition: “No author has ever captured the great fun of being weird, growing up as a happy mutant, unfettered by convention, as well as Pinkwater has. When I was a kid, Pinkwater novels like Lizard Music made me intensely proud to be a little off-center and weird—they taught me to woo the muse of the odd and made me the happy adult I am today…Lizard Music is one of those books that, in the right hands at the right time, can change your life for the better and forever.” High praise, indeed, but deservedly so. Thanks, Steve Sandberg, for reminding me of being that off-center kid with my nose always in a book, and thanks Daniel Pinkwater, for helping me (along with E.L. Konigsberg, L.M. Montgomery, John Bellairs, Thomas Pynchon, Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, and so many others) to become the happy adult that I am today.

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RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 4 Whistles

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Book Cover Courtesy of New York Review Books / The New York Review Children’s Collection

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.

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