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The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin: 11/14/16
The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin by Elinor Teele is a strange book about a pair of siblings trying to find their place in the world. Imagine if you will Six Feet Under combined with Big Fish but set in the middle grade fiction world of Here Be Monsters.
John Coggin and his little sister Page live with Great Aunt Beauregard. John has spent his whole life learning how to make coffins as part of Coggin Family Coffins. John though wants nothing more than to invent things — to build anything that isn't a coffin.
That's where the Big Fish part comes into play, and I'm thinking more of the film, rather than the interconnected set of short stories. Like Ed Bloom Sr., John and his sister leave home (in this case, run away) and join the circus.
The circus is one of a few stops in John and Page's itinerary, through a series of villages nearly as wacky as Ratbridge. As this is a bildungsroman, John must ultimately face his greatest fear and confront both the death of his parents and the abuse of Great Aunt Beauregard.
Other reviews call out the adults in the book for being unilaterally awful to the Coggins children. They aren't — save for the aunt who might as well be the sister of Gregory Anton (Gaslight, 1944). The other adults initial reactions are filtered through John's fear and embarrassment. Like Big Fish, though, the truth behind their apparent motivations are brought to light in the final chapters.