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The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs    by Jack Gantos order for
Love Curse of the Rumbaughs
by Jack Gantos
Order:  USA  Can
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Can you ever love your mother too much? You sure can, if it's in your genes, as a girl finds out in this strange and spooky story. Ivy seems to have an ideal, loving relationship with her mother, though it's a little odd that they live in a hotel. She adores her strange elderly twin uncles, Ab and Dolph, staying at their pharmacy after school, since her mother works. The twins' hobby and their passion is taxidermy. They compete in regional contests and display winning entries - like 'a set of squirrel pharmacists grinding medications with a mortar and pestle' - behind glass in the store.

Oddness creeps slowly into the story. The uncles' mother, Mrs. Rumbaugh, was so controlling and the twins depended on her so much, that they stuffed her after she died, and still consult her on daily matters. At age seven, Ivy comes upon what at first looks to her like a dressmaker's mannequin or a lifesize doll in the pharmacy basement, and is repulsed. Her mom tells her not to judge the twins by what she saw, as they are good men. Ivy senses that she's 'inside a maze of secrets', and is promised answers when she turns sixteen.

As she grows older, Ivy has panic attacks at the thought of ever losing her mother, and looks for a hobby to occupy her thoughts - she chooses taxidermy, and returns to the pharmacy for an apprenticeship with the twins.

The story fast forwards to Ivy's sixteenth birthday, when nature begins to seriously overshadow nurture. Her mom tells her of the family history, the Rumbaugh curse, the twins' early involvement in a 'farm and barn' eugenics experiment, and her own conception. But Ivy's angry attempt to fight the family curse ultimately leads to tragedy.

I loved the author's What Would Joey Do?. Though The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs is engrossing in its weirdness, it was not as much to my taste. But I recommend this unusual mix of coming of age story and light horror to anyone looking for something that's very much out of the ordinary.

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