Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce is one of the five Cybils shortlist titles for Middle Grade Fiction. And I can see why the nominating committee selected it. It's an action-packed story, populated with quirky characters and incidents, and it is simply hilarious. Although I tried to restrain myself, I still ended up with more than a dozen flagged passages, most of them flagged because they made me laugh.
Framed is set in the gray, quiet, Welsh town of Manod. As the story begins, Snowdonia is slowly sinking into obscurity, as more and more families move away. Our hero, Dylan, is the only boy left in town (except for his one year old brother, who is not much good at soccer). Dylan's family business, the Snowdonia Oasis Auto Marvel (a garage) is in precarious shape, despite the best efforts of the plucky family. Dylan's dad leaves town, too, to look for work elsewhere. The future looks grim.
Things change, however, when workers from the National Gallery in London establish a clandestine art storage facility at the top of a nearby mountain. To get in and out of the facility, the workers and guards have to drive by the Snowdonia Oasis, thus becoming a source of new business. Soon the intrepid family is supplying Titian Tarts and Picasso Pie to the art-loving men temporarily stationed in their neighborhood. And as they have the opportunity to see some of the artwork, they, and the town of Manod, are gradually transformed.
There are misunderstandings. There are daring capers, and stolen works of art. There are family and neighborhood traumas. But through it all runs the theme of the transformative power of art.
This is a very British book, with some Welsh phrasing and sensibilities. It carries, to me, a hint of Roald Dahl in the exaggeration, and more than a hint of Jasper Fforde in the absurdity. The characters are slightly larger than life. Dylan is a resourceful hero who is genuinely incapable of understanding why any of his neighbors would want to leave their town. He thinks that it's perfect. Lester, the head of the art storage facility, loves art, but wants to see it kept in boxes, and not shared with many other people. Lester is blind to the way that the pictures are changing the ordinary Welsh people, and their town. Dylan's family is an entrepreneurial team, with astonishing resourcefulness and determination.
I personally found the caper and theft portion of the book a bit rushed, and the conclusion anti-climactic. I never did understand what was going on with the dad, and why he left. But I liked the spirit of the family, and the way that the town, and the Snowdonia Oasis, were improved through the residents' efforts. And as I mentioned above, this book is laugh-out-loud funny. Here are a few examples:
Mr. Arthur is the editor of the Manod Month, our local newspaper. It used to be called the Manod Week, but there isn't enough news in Manod to fill a newspaper every week. (pg. 53)
Of course this information is supposed to be top secret. Publishing it in the Manod Month shouldn't compromise that secrecy as no one reads it anyway. (pg. 85)
"Looks like it's Mars bars again," I said. "That is so unhealthy," said Marie. "You can kill yourselves if you like. I'm going to sort out a proper breakfast for myself." She had a Bounty, because they've got real coconut in them, which is very good for you. (pg. 158)
And so on. Throwaway line after throwaway line, most of them quite funny. I think that kids will like this book a lot, boys and girls. They'll laugh, they'll gasp, and most important of all, they'll keep reading until the end.
Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Original Publication Date: August 2006
Age Range: 9-12
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher. A Cybils shortlist title for Middle Grade Fiction.
Other Blog Reviews: Semicolon, Children's Literature Book Club, The Edge of the Forest, and Scholar's Blog
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.