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A Bridge to the Stars    by Henning Mankell order for
Bridge to the Stars
by Henning Mankell
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2007 (2005)
Hardcover, Paperback, CD
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In a secluded, small northern town in Sweden in 1956, eleven-year old Joel Gustafson lives with his father Samuel on the second floor of a two-story house by the river. Mother Jenny disappeared when he was a baby, and has not been heard from since. Samuel was once a seafarer and is now employed as a lumberjack in the nearby forests.

Joel finds two things in life hard to cope with: 'not knowing why, and not being able to do anything about it', in an adult world he doesn't quite understand, and dreams of entering. Some of his questions are, 'Why did his mother walk out on him and his father?'; 'If his father loves the sea, why are they now in the mountains of Sweden?'; 'Why does father invite a waitress named Sara to their home for coffee?', and 'Why do grown-ups think like children and act differently?' Looking out of his bedroom window one evening, Joel sees a Norwegian elkhound, but when he sneaks outside, it's nowhere to be found. One of Joel's talents is a magnificent imagination; he envisions the dog searching for 'a distant star in the clear, spangled night sky'. It is then that Joel forms a Secret Society, with a specific mission - he keeps a logbook of each day's events, hidden under his father's glass-covered model ship, the Celestine.

Joel has a secret place by 'stone buttresses supporting the big iron bridge where trains shuddered past several times a day' where a big rock had split in two. Sheltered inside the rock, Joel imagines 'being deep down inside the earth', where he could alter reality to his wishes. During night excursions, Joel makes the acquaintance of colorful local folks - Simon Windstorm, confined in an institution for ten years, who drives about in his lorry under the night sky; and Gertrud No-Nose, who wears a handkerchief where her nose used to be. Walking to his secret split rock, Joel meets a newcomer to town named Ture, who announces to Joel that he'll be running away from home in a few weeks. Joel invites Ture to join the Secret Society. Joel shows Ture around town at night, believing that he is the leader. But Ture plans pranks that make Joel doubt his new friend's character and intentions. To prove to Ture that he's not a coward, Joel takes a life-threatening dare, discovering in the process his father's real love and the concern of friends.

A Bridge to the Stars is a captivating, tale by Henning Mankell, his first book for young readers, translated into English by Laurie Thompson. Joel Gustaffson's compelling character is further played-out in Mankell's second installment, Shadows In The Twilight. Readers will relate to Joel's losses, loneliness, and the search for himself. Henning Mankell has received international literary awards for his books, plays, films, and television adaptations. Dividing his time between Sweden and Africa, Mankell is devoted to working with AIDS charities. He is also the director of Teatro Avenida in Maputo, Mozambique.

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