Page 45 Review by Stephen
A cover makes a promise, but only the contents can deliver.
With its energy, its urgency and its two young twins, this fine-line cover promises a period piece of adventure and opposition akin to Tony Cliff's teen treasures DELILAH DIRK AND THE TURKISH LIEUTENANT and DELILAH DIRK AND THE KING'S SHILLING, both of which have been knock-out successes at Page 45 with teenagers and adults alike.
I had every confidence, but not even the first clue as to how much would be packed into its 225 pages, how complicated the lives of these two individuals would become from so many different factions intent on tracking them down, hampering their progress and taking what little they have left, while consequent repercussions conspire to keep them apart.
Sorry...? No, they're not both lads; one of them is a lass, disguised for a reason beyond gender impediment or safety's sake.
What I want to impress upon you above all is that this is no mere A to C while B seems insurmountable, though B does seem a pretty tall order for anyone so short. For a start, this is but Book One of FOUR POINTS so C is far from the final object, but even so I was poleaxed by how many individual threads were so intricately woven within this single volume.
It begins in Manhattan, 1860, with Cleo waiting with Luther, leader of a street-gang of youths, outside an opulent mansion for her brother, Alex, to rob it at night. He fails. Well no, he succeeds in lobbing the silver stash out of the window for Luther to abscond with it, but Alex is caught and sent with his sister to a police station. They're to be split, Alex remanded to Randall's Island prison, Cleo dispatched to the nun-run House of Mercy unless they betray Luther's trust in exchange for a train out of town.
Alex finds an added incentive in the Daily Tribune advertising for information regarding another set of twins, male but both missing after their father's long absence, which fit their description. There's a reward of $200 and that's a sum they both desperately need. The snag is that they'd need to find their way to San Francisco on America's west coast and New Orleans on its east is as far as their train ride will carry them.
So far, so insurmountable, and Luther won't be happy. But I lied.
It begins in Manhattan, 1848, with the twins being bequeathed to a man, Mr. Dodge, by their mother whom he loved. Alas, he'd been parted from Hester for a span of five years. They are not his, but he has no hesitation in adopting the babes even though his own prospects are small and he must travel in order to provide. The stranger also bears two objects from which they must never be parted: a pen-knife and a compass.
But in 1860 Mr. Dodge has failed to return from his most recent travels and wind of what he's inherited has reached far further than a mere gang of youths...
I haven't. Even. Started.
Okay I've finished, but Larson and Mock haven't.
Cleo and Alex are going to face many dangers and many challenges: practical, geographical, judgemental, legal, nautical and hierarchical. But not least among them is their own outlook on life. There are two key players they will share so much time with whose sense of perspective - of values, of priorities - differs from Alex's own at least. It's not all about the money.
Being only twelve, they have a lot of growing up to do and it's not just the unchartered physical terrain which will prove problematic, but emotional awakenings too.
Mock's inner art is actually much denser than displayed on the cover, and much thicker of line. It's closer to Hope Larson's own. I see she supplies colours also and, combined, there is a rich sense of time and space, and how little there may be of either. The rain outside will be ferocious, the lamp-lit intimacy within will have you willing those trapped together into acts of honesty and confessional confidence which Larson won't let you off easily with. Always there is this tension. Words unsaid are pretty powerful.
So superb is Mock's New Orleans seen from a seagull's point of view that you'll crave more panoramas. Sorry, you won't get those, but there's always Book 2.
Instead you will marvel at how convincing Cleo and Alex are as male twins, without either of them ever losing their individuality. Not once does Mock give the game away, otherwise Cleo's game would be given away too, both to those around her and to the readers. That's no mean feat.
This is precisely why I want to tell you about the missing element I've so studiously avoided and redacted time after time from this review. It forms at least one whole half of the considerable complications which Cleo and Alex will be forced to deal with directly, each in their own way.
But hey, I had only this cover to go on before I launched in and now so do you.