This is a book that must be read and processed and considered. There are many levels (textual and story wise) to this book, and while I rate it a 5, I wouldn’t recommend it for someone fancying an adventure tale.
The protagonist is a young kid, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book for young kids– unless they were obsessed with maps or biological science or enjoyed stories narrated by kids who spoke in the voice of an educated adult.
Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is the son of a Montana cowboy rancher and a fastidious, obsessed beetle researcher. He also has a great sadness in his past (which I won’t spoil for you) and the compulsion to create “maps” of not only locations, but social habits and migratory patterns and water tower top designs, etc. He gets invited to a fellowship at the Smithsonian Institute and decides to go, hopping a freight train to get there.
And while that’s a simple version of what the story is “about” that’s really not what its about at all. It’s about science, and how we use it to explain or exploit the world. It’s about how female scientists are devalued, it’s about the beauty of the American west, it’s about how a dysfunctional family deals with tragedy. it’s all these things, and more.
The more part is the wonderful, 5 star rating part of this book. You see, as T.S. narrates his journey ,we get to see his maps. We get to see his digressions, his memories, and his observations of the world. All of those things are crammed into the margins of the pages in a way that adds a breathtakingly meaningful extra layer of emotional and historical depth to this story.
And the truth about T.S.’s brother isn’t told, per se, in the narrative. It’s hinted at and explained and confessed in the margins. And I could make a poetic connection here that we experience things deeply in our lives in the margins of our work and school and play, but really it’s just that all his maps are so cool. They’re just cool.
So I forgave the abrupt ending, and I forgave the preposterousness of T.S. voice as a young boy, because it was so cool. But it’s a book to simmer in, not to consume in great bites, and well worth the time.