Thomas can see things no one else can see. Tropical fish swimming in the canals. The magic of Mrs. Van Amersfoort, the Beethoven-loving witch next door. The fierce beauty of Eliza with her artificial leg. And the Lord Jesus, who tells him, "Just call me Jesus." Thomas records these visions in his "Book of Everything." They comfort him when his father beats him, when the angels weep for his mother's black eyes. And they give him the strength to finally confront his father and become what he wants to be when he grows up: "Happy."
This brief post-WWII novel packs an emotional wallop. In 1951, following the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam, nine-year-old Thomas lives a fear-filled existence with his mother, sister and abusive father. Though Thomas's father ends every evening meal by reading aloud a Bible passage, he routinely beats both Thomas and his mother. Things change after Thomas befriends the reputed "witch" next door. Indeed, Mrs. Van Amersfoort, whose husband was executed by the Nazis for aiding in the Resistance, takes subtle steps to help Thomas and his family. Her deep magic may also be responsible for the odd occurrences in Thomas's household, which eerily parallel the story of Moses and the pharaoh that Thomas's father is reciting. The young hero records these events, and his encounters with Jesus (funny, at times irreverent conversations) in "The Book of Everything" he writes in each day. The narrative, told from Thomas's perspective, draws heavily on Christian symbolism-Mrs. Van Amersfoort serves Thomas a cordial "as red as blood"-and frequent episodes of magical realism (e.g., the angels in heaven "covered their eyes with their hands and sobbed loudly" when Thomas's father strikes his mother). Readers who enjoyed Frank Boyce's Millions will find the same sophisticated storytelling here (though without the plentiful humor), and a satisfying resolution, as Thomas's father gets his comeuppance, and the young hero sticks by what he wants to be when he grows up: happy. Ages 9-12. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.