The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs

Author: Jack Gantos

Reviewer: Joanna McKenzie

Jack Gantos is an American author who has written several previous books for teenagers, none of which I’ve read. Asked to describe the book, the word I’ve found myself using most is “odd”. The concept is odd, the characters are odd and the plot is, well, odd. In essence, it’s a gothic fantasy written for teenagers. The main character is a teenager, but there are no other teenage characters. This gives the main character a sense of strangeness: she’s alone in an adult world she doesn’t quite understand.

The main theme of the book is the idea of Mother love, of a family who genetically inherit an unusually strong attachment to their mothers. Through this uncomfortable topic, the usual motifs of love and loss, life and death find themselves played out in a unfamiliar setting and with an almost parodic gothic backdrop. The author doesn’t pull his punches; the issues are dealt with thoroughly and this can be mildly disturbing. Still, as a reader I retained a feeling of compassion for the narrator, however unnatural her choices may have seemed to me.

The biggest disappointment for me was the plot. Everything else was glowing, larger than life. The mysteries the book introduced were compelling, but aside from that the plot seemed rather empty. There was no drive to the book, and hence no real feeling of closure when it ended. I expected more of the ending, too: expected some form of twist, some unexpected deviation from the obvious conclusion. But the twist, when it came, was so small as to be almost unnoticed.

Seeing this in the shop, would I buy it? Well, no, but not being in the target audience that’s not saying much. I am, on the other hand, glad that I have read it, and for several reasons. The book gave me much to think about, and that’s something many adult books I’ve read fail to do. But perhaps more importantly, I’m glad to know that there are real cutting-edge issues being discussed in teenage literature, especially in this fantastic hyper-reality style. It gives me great hope for the next generation.