by Maureen Tai, 20 August 2019
“… standing on top of the dictionary is a small zombie wearing a chicken suit. He’s rubbing his eyes, a Lego pirate clutched in one green hand. When his eyes adjust to the light, he uses them to look me up and down.” – Livy (Olivia)
I’ve read somewhere about studies that show that children under the age of seven are unable to create lasting memories of actual experienced events. This is heart-breaking for any parent of young children. However, it still doesn’t go all the way to explain why Livy can’t remember anything of her previous visit to her gran’s house when she was five years old.
The cows, the toy elephant, the chess pieces, the dolls, the stairs, none of it is familiar. Not even the strange chicken suit-wearing creature that Livy discovers living in the closet in her mother’s childhood bedroom. Who, and what, is this green being – who goes by the name of Bob – and where does it belong? In this unusual, gentle and clever middle-grade fantasy story, we follow Livy, now a grown-up almost-eleven year old, as she returns to her childhood. She is determined to solve the mystery of Bob and to reclaim her missing memories.
Livy has visited the house in Australia only once before, five years ago. Only her gran lives in it now as Livy and her family live all the way in Massachusetts. Livy’s memories of that long-ago visit are oddly non-existent, much to the disappointment of her gran, her mother, and in particular, this little person in the closet who insists that Livy made a promise that she would help it find out who, or what, it was. It turns out that Bob knows nothing about his own past, or even what he is.
As Livy renews her friendship with Bob, he tells her that it was her five-year old self – Old Livy – who made him the chicken suit disguise out of her old pajamas, some stuck-on-feathers and a comb made of red felt. It was Old Livy who taught him to walk like a chicken, and Old Livy who suggested that Bob was a zombie in the first place. As the older, New Livy retraces her five-year old steps, she gradually unearths recollections and uncovers clues, one by one, that Old Livy left years ago. It wouldn’t be giving too much away to say that by the satisfying conclusion of the story, New Livy has figured out Bob’s magical origins and there are happy endings all around.
Bob has a well-conceived, unique plot that is cleverly executed, with dialogue that sparkles with wit. Livy – her old and new selves – comes across as being a thoughtful, smart, loyal and brave-in-most-ways-but-anxious-in-others sort of person. In short, she’s someone you’d want to have as a best friend. Bob, the magical being, is childlike without being childish. He is also patient and resilient – you’d have to be to stick around in a dark closet for five years – and unwaveringly loyal and trusting. Bob and Livy’s bond of friendship transcends time, crossing the boundary between the magical and the mundane. While Old and New Livy may have had lapses in their memories – all explained in the book – it is unlikely that any reader will soon forget the story of Bob and Livy’s extraordinary friendship.
For ages 8 and up.