Frank Cottrell Boyce
Recommended Age: 10+
At one point during this charming story, 9-year-old Dylan Hughes gets his photograph printed in the newspaper under the headline "The Loneliest Boy in Wales." And there are times when you can see how he might be lonely as one family after another leaves town until he is, literally, the only boy in the small town school. To be sure, he would prefer to have other boys around to play soccer with him. But even at the height of the exodus from the tiny Welsh town of Manod, Dylan loves his town and thinks it is beautiful. If only he can find a way of helping others to see its beauty!
In another sense, however, Dylan doesn't have time to be lonely. He has a lot of responsibility, helping his family run their struggling "Snowdonia Oasis Auto Marvel," and more and more as other family members stop doing their part. Plus, even in its reduced state, Manod is a town full of charming eccentrics, and Dylan always seems to be in the thick of things. In one year, he goes from being the boy whose teacher wonders whether he is interested in anything, to being the one person who brings everything together. And it all starts when the National Gallery of Art - forced out of its London digs by a flood - brings all its priceless paintings to Manod and stores them at the bottom of a disused mine.
The arrival of Mr. Lester, his men, and their amazing works of art is a turning point for Manod, but the catalyst is Dylan. Because of a hilarious misunderstanding, Mr. Lester believes Dylan is a child prodigy with a keen eye for art. This sense of kinship between them (from Mr. Lester's point of view) gives Dylan an opportunity to see a different painting every week. And Dylan's choice of whom to take along to see the art sets unexpected changes in train. Ordinary people are transformed by encounters with extraordinary pictures, and a dying town begins to come to life.
But for Dylan's family, their home and business, the change may not be coming fast enough. So, together with his genius kid sister and a former village idiot, Dylan plans the greatest art theft since Vincenzo Perugia stole the Mona Lisa. Though this desperate crime is motivated by a last hope of keeping his family together, it could go so wrong that nothing can be saved. Which way that goes is down to the beauty Dylan has helped to awaken in Manod.
I am very pleased with Mr. Cottrell Boyce's second novel. For the sometime screenwriter and author of Millions it is, in a sense, a first: for the book Millions was simultaneous with the movie ditto, but I see no indication that this book is "soon to be a major motion picture." I trust and hope that this new branch of the author's career will continue to grow in such a satisfying direction.