Nobel Prize winner Hermann Hesse once observed that, We have to stumble through so much dirt before we reach home. And we have no one to guide us. Homesickness is our only guide. David, the 12-year-old protagonist of John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things, is homesick for his recently deceased mother, and the life that he and his parents once had. Unfortunately, that idyll was destroyed not only by death, but by life, in the form of a stepmother, and, worse, a new half-brother, with whom David and his father relocate to an old house in the country. Then the fainting spells come, and the books start talking to him, and his mum begins calling, entreating David to bring her back and set things right. Irish author Connolly, whose Every Dead Thing won the Shamus Award for Best P.

I. Novel, has traded the mean streets that Charlie Parker (his series protagonist) travels for the mean path to adulthood in his first stand-alone novel. Set in England during the early days of World War II, The Book of Lost Things can be enjoyed by both adults and older children.

During an air raid, David finds his way into the magical world from which his mother is calling and can't get back. Torn between the mission to find his departed parent and the craving to return to his real home, David is thrust into a series of events that spur him along from frightened child to self-reliant young man.

Darker than Oz, more lifelike than Hogwarts, the alter-world Connolly has created teems with menace: wolf-men called Loups, a 30-foot caterpillar-like Beast and the malevolent Crooked Man. There's plenty of action and a significant amount of blood, probably too much for those under 12. On the lighter side, David encounters the Seven Dwarves, straight out of casting for Monty Python, and a Snow White that has grown into an overweight and overbearing harridan.

From Odysseus to Don Quixote to Sir Galahad to Luke Skywalker, the quest myth has ingrained itself in our literary DNA. Connolly has transformed the coming-of-age saga into a distinctive and riveting adventure, a timeless book that will read as well in 2056 as it does today.

Thane Tierney writes from Los Angeles, California.

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