© Bruce Coville, cover illustration © Gary A. Lippincott.
Bruce Coville has written quite a few novels for children or young adults (hate that term, but that’s what the booksellers use), and this is the first one I’ve read. It’s part of a series titled “Magic Shop Books,” but each is a stand-alone story, I believe. Looks like they all feature a different child and locale with the stories tied by the magic shop of Mr. Elives, which is full of real magical objects and appears or disappears at the owners’ will. In this book, Charlie Eggleston finds his way into the shop and becomes fascinated with a human skull. Almost without being able to help himself, he steals the “Skull of Truth” and brings it home with him. Of course it’s magic, and begins to speak to him in his mind, but rather than being scary, it’s kind of annoying: lots of bad jokes and scarcastic comments, as well as some interesting stories, but the thing won’t shut up.
Complications ensue when Charlie finds out the downside of his act: anyone who speaks to the skull is forced to tell the truth. This does not go well for him at home or at school, and soon the skull is affecting Charlie’s entire family with funny results, for the reader if not for him. There’s also a dark threat looming, something evil is after the skull, and Charlie might just be in the way. Mr. Elives wants the skull back, too.
This book is an entertaining adventure story with a good dose of humor, and it also has some wise things to say about the moral choices involved in how truthful people are, and what it means to tell the truth. Instructive, but not in a pedantic way, it’s all part of the fun. A good read, and I might try more of Coville’s books. Recommended.
Coville is a very entertaining writer (and audiobook producer), so you’ll certainly find more to enjoy. In fact, he’s so hard-working that there’s almost too much to choose from! His “My Teacher Is an Alien” series for Byron Preiss is among his best early work.