Shoestring - The boy who walks on air by Julie Hunt

cover image

Illus. by Dale Newman. Allen & Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760297213. 356pp.
(Ages: 10 - 13) Recommended. This unusual story is set in another world and time. Shoestring has the amazing ability to walk on an invisible tightrope. He was once a street urchin but was taken in by May, the owner of a gambling business called The Luck Palace. Shoestring embarks on a journey with a troupe of magicians, musicians and gymnasts, who travel in horse drawn wagons, on a tour to entertain and gain fame. However early into the trip he is bewitched by a pair of powerful and evil gloves. The gloves lead him to steal again and lose all sense of right and wrong. The gloves also steal different troupe members skills such as their hearing or memory. May and her cantankerous fortune telling macaw, Metropolis, are recruited to help and the troupe is then in hot pursuit of how to be rid of the gloves that are causing such mayhem. They are told a riddle they need to solve and another plot driver is a set of fortune telling cards, rather like Tarot cards. The gloves are part of an elaborate revenge plot by super-nasty woman, Marm, who blames May for the death of her son.
All in all this is a weird adventure which requires persistence to get to the explosive climax. There are so many characters and bizarre things happening that it may suit a reader who loves fantasy and a big challenge. At times it is convoluted with many back stories. The main characters of Shoestring and Metropolis are both conceited and unlikeable, although Shoestring comes to his senses. Metropolis is a major voice and there are long parts when she tells her side of the story. The book works as a stand-alone but there are many references to its graphic novel prequel KidGlovz. The illustrations are terrific and integral to keeping track of the characters and places. The style is reminiscent of Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret and this is a high quality hardcover publication.
Jo Marshall