A Tangle of Knots

Lisa Graff's delightful, complex novel sends young readers searching for both a perfect cake recipe and a Talent with a capital "T."

By , Contributor

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    A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

    Philomel Books,

    240 pp.
    View Caption

Mason Burgess has lost his suitcase. No an ordinary valise, his is one of only three dozen St. Anthony's suitcases ever crafted. To make matters worse, the "one, slim irreplaceable slip of paper in it, was gone" also.

What's written on the slip of paper? Who's the mysterious traveling salesman? The plot is thickening, and bright young readers will enjoy puzzling over A Tangle of Knots, Lisa Graff's newest middle-grade novel.

Told from multiple, various, completely different, and often seemingly unrelated points of view, the story begins with that missing suitcase and jumps 53 years in one page turn. After a quick detour for a piece of Miss Mallory's Peach Cake (not only is the book filled with delicious recipes, the author is an amateur baker and the recipes look yummy), readers meet 11-year-old orphan and cake-baker, Cadence. She creates cakes for all occasions, especially when someone is happily adopted into a new family. But this is not a story about children in orphanages or even about magical suitcases. What everyone in "A Tangle of Knots" has or desperately seeks is a Talent.

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Yes, that's Talent with a capital "T."

Some Talents, like tying knots, playing jacks, or even floating, are best saved for entertaining. Parents may persuade children to vacuum, in hopes that they discover a usable Talent. Others are convinced that they will never have a Talent, but they haven't completely given up. Pursuing your Talent, seeking your fate, finding something that you are good at is a theme that makes the story special for young readers. The thread that runs through the narrative of this complicated little book? Each of us is unique; yet we are all connected.

A novel filled with magic, multiple characters, mysteries, and quests may challenge some. To understand all the plot tangles requires a careful reading – or two. But the writing is fun, and a story that begins with a lost suitcase, meanders around lost ferrets and historically important missing toothpicks, will take many unexpected turns before reaching the satisfying ending.

If it takes a second reading to untangle the knots, consider it a reading gift and a second opportunity to choose your favorite cake recipe. I'm going with Marigold's Lime Pound Cake. As for picking and perfecting a Talent: Spitting? Disappearing? I'd like to choose floating. That seems like a perfect adventure, though I've always admired a good toss of a jacks ball.

In her many-faceted tale, master story weaver Lisa Graff makes them all worth considering.

– Augusta Scattergood regularly reviews children's books for The Christian Science Monitor

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