What would you do if you woke up one day in a strange land filled with talking animals and didn’t know how to get back home? That’s the situation that faces Max in Bill Willingham’s fun and action-packed novel, Down the Mysterly River. Max, or Max the Wolf, as he’s sometimes called, is a Boy Scout and an amateur detective, who in his years as a Boy Scout has solved many mysteries. How and why he got to the world where the Mysterly River is becomes the most difficult case he’s faced so far. Read about his adventures in that world, with the badger, Brock, the self-proclaimed king of the barncats, McTavish, and Walden, the bear. Max’s eventual discovery of why and how he and his new animal friends got there will entrance and fascinate you, and you will see, like I did, why it’s one of the best novels for middle grade kids on up that has been published in recent years.
Max and his friends face many dangerous situations in this new world, mostly due to a group of people called the Blue Cutters. They are truly villianous bad guys, who use specially-made blue swords to cut away what makes the people and animals who show up in their land (like Max, Brock, McTavish, and Walden) and shape and mold their personalities and memories however the Cutters want them to be. They basically destroy whatever it is that makes the people and animals special, unique, and heroic.
It’s a good thing that Max is a Boy Scout, because he’s had at least some experiences camping and fending for himself. He doesn’t have his Scout Handbook with him, but he has a “Lost Pack,” which contains matches, fishing line, hooks, a needle to sew with, and other stuff that helps him survive.
I loved this novel, but I was a Scout, myself, which may have been a factor that added to my interest in it. I was somewhat surprised that my seventeen-year-old daughter, who read it actually before I did, also loved it, and laughed out loud at several places while reading it. I would say that while the audience Down the Mysterly River was primarily written for is middle grade to younger teen boys, it’s an interesting enough and humorous enough tale that both sexes will enjoy reading it.
There is some violence in the novel, which I have hinted at by mentioning that the Blue Cutters are ruthless in their pursuit of strangers in their lands. Their swords don’t wound or kill their victims, in general (though they can be used to do that), but they still destroy a person or animal in that they make them different from who they were before. Also there is at least one death over the course of the book–unintentional, but still just as fatal.
How many worlds are there? Who has made them, and why? How and why did Max, Brock, Walden, and McTavish come to the world of the Blue Cutters? I don’t want to give anything away and spoil your enjoyment of the book, so I will not answer these questions. But, if you like mysteries full of action and adventure, and stories involving talking animals, you’re sure to love reading Bill Willingham’s excellent novel, Down the Mysterly River.