The Phantom Limb by William Sleator
October 1, 2011, Abrams
Summary from Goodreads:
Isaac is the new kid in town. His mother, Vera, is in the hospital with a mysterious illness, and the only person left to care for Isaac is his distant grandfather. Friendless and often alone, Isaac loses himself in his collection of optical illusions, including a strange mirror box that he finds in his new house, left behind by the previous tenants. Designed for amputees, it creates the illusion of a second limb.Lonely Isaac wishes someone would reach out to him, and then someone does—a phantom limb within the mirror box! It signs to Isaac about a growing danger: someone who has murdered before and is out to get Vera next. The only way Isaac can solve the mystery and save his mother is with the help of the mirror box. But can he trust the phantom limb?
I've never read anything by William Sleator but he's been on my radar since I began working with teens in 2009 (Rewind, in particular, has been on my to-read list forever). I heard about his passing on August 3 and also that he had just finished up his latest book. Abrams was kind enough to send me an ARC of The Phantom Limb.
I really, really wanted to like this book. The premise is interesting enough--someone is trying to kill Isaac's mom, and the phantom limb in the mirror box might be able to help him stop the murder. Sure, it's far-fetched, but it sounds like it could be a fun read--and something younger boys, in particular, might enjoy.
I would still recommend it to younger boys (although the suggested age range is 14, I didn't really come across anything that would offend slightly younger readers), but I was very disappointed with many aspects of the book. Much of it felt rushed, as though there was an intense push to get it finished and no time for editing. The storyline is way beyond suspension of belief. Believing that a phantom limb is trying to help solve a murder is one thing. Believing that everything that happened in the hospital could actually happen? I mean, one of the things, maybe. ALL of them? No freaking way. It's just too implausible.
All the talk about optical illusions, though, really piqued my interest (Isaac's a collector). I've looked up information on the Menger sponge, the mirror box, and the spiral aftereffect...you can test out the aftereffect here, but the Menger sponge I just cannot wrap my head around. All of these illusions are things that you really have to see to understand--simply visualizing them based on what you've read isn't enough. So I will give Sleator props for introducing me to a subject I'd previously had little knowledge of, and I definitely think that younger readers might develop a fascination with optical illusions after finishing this book. When all is said and done, however, unfortunately I feel that the execution wasn't as great as it could have been.
ARC received from publisher.
Enjoy your reading!