When an accident leaves teenage cousins Meline and Jocelyn parentless, they come to live with their unknown and eccentric Uncle Marten on his private island. They soon discover that the island has a history as tragic as their own: it was once an air force training camp, led by a mad commander whose crazed plan to train pilots to fly airplanes without instruments sent eleven pilots to their deaths. Jocelyn, Meline, and Uncle Marten are soon joined on this island of wrecked planes and wrecked men by an elderly Austrian housekeeper, a very mysterious butler, a cat, and a dog. But to Jocelyn and Meline, being in a strange new place around strange new people only underscores the fact that the world they once knew has ended.
Told in the alternating voices of four characters dealing with grief in different ways, Polly Horvath's new novel is a rich and complicated story about loss and the possibility— and impossibility—of beginning again.
The Corps of the Bare-Boned Plane is a 2008 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
The National Book Award winning author of The Canning Season reprises many of her trademark themes in a novel even more idiosyncratic than its predecessors. Meline, the first of several narrators, begins the story just after a social worker has told her that her parents have been killed in Zimbabwe, where they were scouting for property. Her aunt and uncle were also killed, but her cousin, Jocelyn, traveling with them, has survived. Before long Meline and Jocelyn, strangers to each other, are on their way to live with their reclusive, ridiculously rich uncle Marten Knockers, a self-styled scholar, who has built a mansion on an island off British Columbia accessible only by helicopter. Much to Marten's displeasure, the household expands to include a cook, the bitter Mrs. Mendelbaum, an Austrian Jewish widow whose four sons have died; and the silent, all-knowing butler, Humdinger. All have been parted from their pasts whether by quiet renunciation, bold repudiation or, like Meline and Jocelyn, by having it violently torn from them. Horvath's prose has rarely been more incisive: she understands the workings of grief and conveys them with uncanny accuracy and sympathy. The dark, unrestrained wit of her best writing, however, goes missing here, the humor flattened into joyless caricatures of Marten and the Yiddish-speaking Mrs. Mendelbaum. In its place, perhaps, the author offers a complex and sustained metaphor that appears to be about doomed flight; a climactic revelation broadens its scope to illuminate another Horvath specialty, the family secret. Unsparing, often grim, this book rejects false hopes in favor of fragile strivings for truth. Ages 12-up.