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" Interested in medicine? Dr. ABC seeks bright lad. Training and board. Apply number 113, Broadway. " Twelve-year-old Matthew Morrissey can't believe his luck when he spotsthis ad in the paper. He is interested in medicine--he wants tofind a cure for the cholera that wiped out his whole family and lefthim orphaned. Alone on the streets of 1840s New York, Matthew leaps atthe opportunity to help this Dr. ABC, whomever he is. As it turns out,he is the plump, puffy, rumpled Asa B. Cornwall, a kindly-if-obsessedphrenologist who hopes to someday perfect mankind through his study ofthe contours of human skulls, particularly those of flawed characters. " Give me a skull, and I can conjure up the very soul of a man! " Hecries passionately. Matthew is eager to please this eccentric man, ifonly for a warm bed and all the oatmeal he can eat. In time, however, his apprenticeship intensifies when he learns he musthelp his master rob graves for real specimens. And can the doctorreally mean that he wants Voltaire's skull from Paris? Things heat upeven more when they discover they have a mysterious enemy with a brow" broad and low," clearly the skull of a criminal. Kathleen Karr'sdelightful, well-crafted adventure is witty, suspenseful, anddeliciously Dickensian; most of all, it has a great deal of heart. Watching the older man and his young charge plow forward through nearmisses and comedies of errors is pure fun. And we, like the dynamicduo, come to learn that their companionship is far more valuable than achest of gold, an acre of skulls, or Dr. ABC's relentless pursuit ofperfection. (Ages 10 to 14) --Karin SnelsonFrom School Library Journal:
Grade 5-8-After losing his family to cholera, 12-year-old Matthew gets a job helping the eccentric Dr. Cornwall, a phrenologist in 1839 New York. The boy proves adept at helping the doctor provide "readings" of the heads of his clients and even improves business with his advertising schemes. Dr. Cornwall, however, requires actual skulls to conduct his research, and Matthew finds himself digging up graves in the dead of night. The phrenologist is especially interested in the skulls of great minds and the pair journey to Europe where he hopes to unearth Voltaire. Matthew has doubts about the ethics of their endeavors, but allows the persuasive doctor to talk him into continuing. Throughout their adventures, a mysterious villain whom they suspect has been hired by rival phrenologists pursues them. He even follows them to St. Helena, where the doctor hopes to make off with Napoleon's skull, but the final revelation of the menacing stalker's motives is disappointingly anticlimactic. Dr. Cornwall gets carried away with his profession at times, but has a good heart and true respect for science and knowledge. The boy is resourceful and clever, though he never develops into an especially unique or memorable character. The plot is fast paced at times, especially in the second half, and the elements of grave robbing and the intriguing "science" of phrenology may attract curious readers not ordinarily drawn to historical fiction.
Steven Engelfried, Deschutes County Library, Bend, OR
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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