Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

By Ekta R. Garg

January 29, 2014

Rated: Bookmark it!

When a girl travels with her father and big sister to an old museum, she expects to spend most of her time getting bored while her father works.  But when she meets a mysterious boy, the girl learns she has the opportunity to do something extraordinary that will help her heal from a tragedy and help the world in the process.  Karen Foxlee gives tween readers this sweet, touching story in Ophelia and the Mysterious Boy.

Eleven-year-old Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard travels to a foreign city from London with her father, Mr. Whittard, and her sister, Alice, less than four months after her mother dies.  Mr.Whittard, an international expert on swords, has come to the museum to help organize a brand new exhibit of swords set to go on display on Christmas Eve in this city where winter seems never ending.  He leaves Ophelia and Alice to their own amusements, and Ophelia (the budding scientist) sets out to explore the museum.

She gets the shock of her life when she meets a young boy locked behind a door.  Ophelia can see part of him through the keyhole, but he can’t leave his room.  What’s more, something about the boy makes Ophelia feel funny inside.  She can’t pinpoint just what the funny feeling is or why she gets it, but it’s there.

The funny feeling only gets exacerbated when the boy tells her fantastical tales about a wicked queen and wizards who sent him on a quest to stop her.  The queen captured the boy many years ago, he explains, and now he needs help to get out of the room and stop her before she takes over the world and pours eternal miseries onto it.  What’s more, the boy states with unshakeable confidence that Ophelia can and will help him.

Ophelia feels sad by the boy’s plight, but she certainly isn’t a heroine.  And how does he know her name?  How can he say with such ease that she’ll become his partner in this quest?  Do people even go on quests?  Quests certainly aren’t scientific, can’t be quantified in any way.  Maybe he’s just a sad boy who isn’t quite right in the head anymore.

Somehow, Ophelia can’t completely convince herself of that and reluctantly agrees to help the boy with one or two small tasks.  As each task leads to something bigger and more frightening, Ophelia starts to wonder whether she’s better off walking away from the entire affair.  By then, however, she gets so involved that she can only go forward.  And all of a sudden she finds herself in a race against the clock to help the boy and save the world.

Author Karen Foxlee provides readers with a story suspended in a different time and place.  The only nod to modern society comes in the form of a plane ride.  Other than that, however, Foxlee takes readers to that location that exists only in imaginations where young boys can become bearers of important missives and inanimate objects come to life with ferocity.  Her Ophelia will charm readers right away.

Foxlee slips twice in her British vernacular—at one point Ophelia contemplates taking someone to “the hospital” as opposed to simply “hospital,” as the British would say, and in another place she mentions a rack of “chips” and not “crisps” falling down.  Also, the quests the boy sets for Ophelia feel slightly repetitive; Ophelia must find the same type of object three times.  And at certain moments the book could have aimed higher and bigger in its imaginative scope.

Foxlee may strike adult readers of the book as approaching her plot with a touch of tentativeness, but she makes worthy attempts and mostly succeeds.  Illustrator Yoko Tanaka’s artwork adds to the book delightful visuals.  Readers will probably spend as much time enjoying them as they would the story itself.

For the most part readers will certainly enjoy Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, and I highly recommend it for readers of all ages.

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