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Spell & Spindle: 06/26/20

Spell & Spindle

Spell & Spindle by Michelle Schusterman is a middle grade horror about a boy who finds himself switched into the body of a full sized marionette, and the marionette who saves him with the help of his sister.

The story opens with a tale of a cabinetmaker and his apprentice. The cabinet maker builds a soul-stealing marionette and a collection of cabinets that could and did contain everything and anything. So complex were the cabinets one could become lost in them.

A screenshot from Courage the Cowardly Dog

In this introductory tale three tales are brought to mind: Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (1883), The Magician's Nephew (1955), and 100 Cupboards by ND Wilson. But on further reading, one is also reminded of the "The Great Fusilli" episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog (1999)

At the opening, Chance and his father work at the Museum of Peculiar Arts. After years of dwindling ticket sales, the aging proprietor choses to close and Chance's parents see this change as their opportunity to escape the city for the suburbs. As a parting gift, Chance is given Penny, a life sized marionette.

From the alternating chapters, Schusterman gives insight into the minds of both Chance and Penny. Penny is not only live sized, she is also sentient, but trapped within the confines of her wooden body. Chance, also realizes that when he's physically touching Penny, he can hear her thoughts.

At the inclusion of a spindle, dropped off mysteriously one night, Chase and Penny trade places. Penny, though, before this event, has sworn that she is not a soul-stealing demon. She's not sure what she is (beyond being a marionette). While she enjoys her freedom at first (albeit it in the body of a teenage boy), she realizes she needs to undo the switch.

The journey to undo the body switch is framed within the context of the road narrative spectrum. Collectively Chase and Penny are the dual scarecrow and minotaur travelers (99). As their status changes over the course of the novel, so do their respective rolls, with each taking turns at being both.

As Chase's family (and thus Penny) have moved to the suburbs, and the answer to the switching problem is in the city they just left, the destination is the city (00).

The journey to the city is done via train (00). The plans Chance's sister makes bring to mind how Claudia and Jaimie ride the train into New York to live inside the museum in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg.

All together, Spell & Spindle is the tale of a scarecrow and minotaur traveling to the city on the train to undo a curse.

Five stars

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