The Curious Chronicles of Jack Bokimble and His Peculiar Penumbra – James Demonaco

Spoilers Ahead!

I was ready to adore The Curious Chronicles of Jack Bokimble and His Peculiar Penumbra from the beginning, just for the title alone. Jack is different. He has a magical shadow which he learns to use to explore the world in a way no one else can. He can touch and manipulate items with his shadow, feeling with his physical body and shadow simultaneously. While Jack is shy and fearful, his shadow is not and it cannot feel pain.

Jack’s father, who has a small nose but an exceptionally gifted sense of smell, is excited about Jack’s difference. Jack’s mother, however, who runs an advice website called ILLMAKETHEDECISIONSYOUCANT.COM (unfortunately it’s not a real website – I checked) is concerned, worrying that Jack’s ability will scare people away. Jack’s mother is also a champion farter, smelling up the pages whenever she’s anxious or excited.

This book deals with bullying, being an outcast, friendships, loneliness, wanting to belong, and learning to accept and celebrate your differences. I thought it was wonderful that James DeMonaco explored peoples’ fear of anything or anyone who is different and points out that differences aren’t actually scary after all. There’s some good vocabulary building, often thanks to Louis the Lip, who’s pretty much described as practically perfect in every way (sorry, I love Mary Poppins so had to describe him like that 😊), with the exception of his personality.

I liked Jack as a character. He’s sensitive, intelligent, inquisitive and non-judgemental. He’s a lonely boy who desperately wants friends but is excruciatingly shy. He stands up for what he believes in and wants to use his shadow powers for good. I enjoyed most of the sequence of events and although it’s hinted at several times with one of my pet peeves (see below), I can see this story working as the first in a series.

I enjoyed the quirkiness of Jack’s parent so much and particularly loved the pet names they call each other, always something different so as not to be boring. It’s so hard to pick a favourite pet name for each but I was fond of Sir Spits When He Speaks and Whimsical Wife with Weird Digestion. My favourite character was the lion with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He was adorable.

I was so annoyed that the only two children not scared of Jack’s abilities are the ones who have personally benefited from them, yet they still allow peer pressure to stop them from being his friend. This makes a really good point about the power of peer pressure but I was so angry with those kids for a while.

It seems that each children’s book I’ve read recently is taking their style or ideas from Roald Dahl. Remember the chalkboard incident in Matilda? It’s pretty much replicated in this book.

Moving on to my irritations, question marks and pet peeve occurrences, some with spoilers so reader beware. While these are plentiful, please don’t think they mean I didn’t enjoy the book. I really did. When I want more or have lots of questions, it means I’m invested in the storyline and I understand that if there is a sequel a lot of my questions may be answered then. Only the first point detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

I found the interjections by the listener and the storyteller discussing the characters and sequence of events really irritating and thought it disrupted the story rather than adding value with it. While I understand the purpose of these exchanges I felt the story would have flowed better without them.

How can a shadow speak with Jack? I don’t remember reading how this is explained and Jack’s shadow doesn’t seem to be verbal so maybe this is something that happens once only the shadow remains?

Is it one of the magical properties of this type of shadow that after death it no longer needs to be attached to a person for it to be projected?

How can Jack communicate with all of the animals in the Central Park Zoo? Is this part of the shadow magic as well?

Hopefully if the events in this book had really happened a teacher wouldn’t have allowed three children to head back into an area soon to be engulfed in fire by themselves just because one of the children insisted they could save the animals. At least have the guts to go in there with them or maybe keep them out of harm’s way and wait for the firefighters to save the day? I know, I know. It’s only a story but as I said, I was invested.

Jack becomes the most popular kid in school after the fire and all the kids, except Melinda and Larry, want to do is ask him questions about his shadow. It feels as though instead of going from someone to be feared to a friend who can be relied on to look out for his friends, he becomes something of a curiosity for quite a while. And the cousin that was frightened of Jack at the beginning of the book? He comes out of the woodwork and wants to be friends with him … after Jack is on the news. I loved Jack and wanted everyone to see him for the awesome kid he is, regardless of his abilities, and I wanted everyone else to be as pure hearted as he is.

There’s a chapter called Back to School, Not Starring Rodney Dangerfield. While I personally appreciated this nod to one of my favourite movies I doubt any kid reading this would know who Rodney Dangerfield is or would have seen the 1986 film.

🚨 Pet Peeve Alert 🚨
“but that is a different chronicle”
“his story is for another day”
“but that’s a different story”
“That’s for another time”
I don’t know why but sentences like those really bug me, although that’s my problem, not the author’s.

I applaud Jack’s forgiving nature. I think if I was the one treated like a leper because I had a special talent I would have happily slapped every single rotten bully across the face with my shadow hand, but I guess that’s one of the many reasons why I haven’t been entrusted with my very own super shadow. 😜

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Inkshares for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Shortly after Jack is born, strange things are afoot in the Bokimble house – glasses fall from shelves, and nothing seems to be where Mr. and Mrs. Bokimble left it. Jack’s parents begin to sense that there’s something strange about their son, and it’s not long before they realize that he has a secret friend: his magical shadow. 

Is Jack’s shadow a superpower that he needs to control and master? Or is it a curse that will separate him from others? Travel with Jack on his boyhood journey as he learns not only how to control his magical shadow but what it means to be different – a story that mines the potential for magic and mystery in all of us.

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