Friday, May 28, 2010

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer (Penguin - Firebird) is set in a futuristic Zimbabwe where Tendai, Rita, and Kuda are kept safe from gangs in their parents' house--at least, until they escape for a little adventure. Once on the outside, the children are kidnapped and sent to the plastic mines, giving you just a hint of the tension between technology and the natural world of the story. Three detectives--the Ear, Eye, and Arm of the title--are enlisted to find them, but can they do it when the kids don't exactly want the adventure to end? At least, not before they figure out that their lives are in danger...

This is one of those books that I find pretty hard to review, and pretty hard to sell to friends. But here's a quote from the teen heroine: Tendai was reading Sun Tzu's Art of War, and Rita had the writings of Julius Caesar. "Who cares how the Romans built their roads?" she grumbled. "They should have all stayed home and had orgies." That's not a line you'd see in too many young adult books, you have to admit--and though it's not representative of the plot, it's a hint that this book won't be quite what you expected.

I really enjoy this story, and I think it's one of Nancy Farmer's best, inspired by the many years she lived in Africa. One thing that I think makes this a difficult book to get others to pick up is the cover art; while I don't have a recommendation, necessarily, I don't think that any of the covers for this Newbery Honor have been able to reflect the adventure within. Some, I think, focus too much on the adults and not enough on the teens for this type of book. The bottom left is my least favorite, and I think the least appealing; I own the one on the bottom right; the top left might make me think it was published well before the mid-90s; I think I like the top right best, but I wish it balanced the mask with the hint of the science fiction setting a little more. Here's a sampling.


  1. I had this one from the library. I think it had the bottom left cover. I didn't really care about the cover, though; I'd already read another book by the author and thought I'd enjoy this one as well.

  2. I think it really helps to have an idea about an author when you're looking for more--I remember getting the one on the bottom right and being just sure that I wasn't going to like the book at all! Just a reminder for me to be more open-minded and less cover-judgey, I guess...


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