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A Bridge to the Stars

Review

A Bridge to the Stars

Like many American readers, I've recently discovered Henning Mankell. The Swedish author of a series of adult mystery novels featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander, Mankell has been enormously popular in Europe for a number of years, although his work is only slowly gaining momentum here in the States. Now Delacorte Press has released A BRIDGE TO THE STARS, the first of Mankell's novels for young adults, which, although very different from his Wallander series of police procedurals, nevertheless are worthwhile for younger American audiences to discover as well.

Eleven-year-old Joel Gustafsson is full of questions. Sometimes he feels like his life is just one big mystery. Why does his father, a former sailor who loves to tell stories of exotic places and longs for the sea, now work as a lumberjack in far northern Sweden, about as far from the sea as one can get? "How could he find any satisfaction in going into the forest every day to chop down trees when he'd never succeed in felling enough for him to be able to glimpse the open sea beyond?" Joel asks.

Most of all, Joel wonders about his mother, Jenny, who disappeared when he was a baby, leaving Joel's father moody and Joel to feel "like a mother to myself." Joel’s father keeps a single photograph of Jenny but refuses to talk about her, and Joel wonders why his mother abandoned them so long ago. Now, as his father keeps company with their small town's barmaid, Joel grows increasingly concerned that he is about to be abandoned for a second time.

When Joel spots an alluring, mysterious Norwegian elkhound that seems to be searching for something, and when he meets a new boy whose daring ideas both fascinate and repel him, he sets off on secret midnight ramblings through his tiny Swedish village, discovering a side of his town --- and himself --- that he didn't know existed.

One of the things I've most enjoyed about Henning Mankell's Inspector Wallander series is the way the author probes into the psyche and emotions of his protagonist. This same type of emotional depth of character is on display in A BRIDGE TO THE STARS, which is a very effective portrayal of a boy on the cusp of adolescence. Searching for independence on his nightly forays with his charismatic new friend, Joel nevertheless still longs for safety and security, as represented by his desire to remain close to his father and to discover more about his absent mother.

Joel's thoughtful story is enhanced not only by the boy's imaginative fancies and by Mankell's lyrical writing (capably translated into English by Laurie Thompson), but also by the array of memorable and eccentric characters who populate Joel's small town. Hopefully Mankell will expand his portrait of this northern Swedish village --- and further explore Joel's compelling character --- in his other books about Joel Gustafsson, due to be published in English in the near future. New, younger audiences now have reason to discover this Swedish author, whose fame is sure to grow among American audiences.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 11, 2007

A Bridge to the Stars
by Henning Mankell

  • Publication Date: August 11, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0440240425
  • ISBN-13: 9780440240426