I found it in Barnes and Noble on the clearance shelf. The first thing I noticed was that the book was completely square, not rectangular like most other books. It looked interesting at a first glance, with pictures and captions in the margins. I went ahead and bought it, at less than $7. The narrator is Tecumseh Sparrow (T.S. Spivet), a 12-year-old cartography genius who lives with his parents and sister in rural Montana. His father is a quiet rancher; his mother a scientist is search of a rare and exotic beetle.
A call from the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. changes his life. He's offered a fellowship, although the museum director has no idea that T.S. is only 12 years old. T.S. decides to leave his family and go cross-country to D.C. So starts his very strange trip.
The first part of the book introduces his family: practically-minded sister Gracie, silent Tecumseh Elijah Spivet, and distracted Dr. Clair (his mother...he only refers her to Dr. Clair, not 'Mother'). We find out that T.S.'s brother Layton has recently died in a shooting accident, but no one really mentions Layton, except T.S. After the Smithsonian call, T.S. leaves on a train heading East.
The middle part of the book focuses on T.S.'s great-great grandmother, Emma Osterville. Dr. Clair kept a notebook about her illustrious ancestor: Emma was one of the first female geologists in the country. Why did such a strong-willed, practical woman give up everything to marry a rancher in the wilds of Montana?
It's a strange tale-within-a-tale, a definite mirror to T.S.'s journey in the opposite direction. There's one problem: we (the readers) never know the reason. Emma's story just ends on that vague note with no conclusion. Of course, Emma's tale lasts long enough to occupy T.S. during the entire cross-country trip (wormhole effect?)
The last part of the book has T.S. involved with a conspiracy group in Washington D.C., but that storyline doesn't go anywhere, either, and is never resolved. The story ends on a rather abrupt note (won't give it away, but my reaction was, "That's IT?!"), as if the book just runs out of time.
I actually enjoyed the illustrations and the footnotes in the margins. T.S. manages to include all sorts of trivia and pieces of information in those drawings. If footnotes drive you crazy, it can be a real distraction. Some of them are directly related to the story, but most are not. It's a fascinating look into T.S.'s mind; a 12-year-old genius whose thoughts are random, yet organized at the same time.
I enjoyed some parts of this book, but others seemed to drag out, and you have to suspend a lot of disbelief while reading this. Out of five stars, I'd give this book about a two and a half.