The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Rief Larsen

88bc7fb7219462f5937766c5567434d414f4541 The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

by Rief  Larsen

Penguin Press,  2009

An unusual and intriguing book,  The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is the story of twelve-year-old Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet and his clandestine journey from a ranch in Montana to Washington D.C.  It is a cartographic fantasy, a book within a book,  and a self-contained piece of art.

T.S. Spivet  is “a genius mapmaker” .  He draws maps, charts and graphs,  all the time, of everything.  Patterns of Cross-Talk Before and After,   The Four Components of Adventure, Gracie & Me Play Cat’s Cradle During the Blizzard. It is a compulsion, he has to do it.

Was it all just improvisation on the part of my internal balancing system, or, as I intuitively believed, was there actually some invisible map of the land buried inside my head?  Were we all born with the awareness of everything?  The slope of every hillock?  Every river’s curvature and cutbank, the rise and fall of the chiseled rapids and the glassy stillness of each eddy?  Did we already know the radial shading of every single person’ iris, the arborage of crow’s-feet on every elder’s temple, the ridged whorl of thumbprints, of fence lines, of lawns, and flowerpots, the reticulation of gaveled driveways, the gridwork of streets, the bloom of the exit ramps and superhighways, of the stars and planets and supernovas and galaxies beyond –did we know the precise location of all this but ultimately have no conscious way to access this knowledge? Page 201

Delicate and intricate maps, as well as lists, notes and digressions fill the margins of  this lovely book. It is easy to get lost in them.  They also contain family secrets.  His maps have been printed in scientific publications and sold to museums.  Of course none of these fine publications and institutions realize they are dealing with a child.

Through some secret finagling by his adult mentor T.S. wins the prestigious Baird Award  given by the  Smithsonian Institution.  T.S. must figure out a way to get to Washington on his own.  So he leaves home, hops a train, and ends up spending part of his journey reading a history of his paternal grandmother written by his mother.  This history gives him a better understanding of the family he has left behind. Along the way he meets some interesting characters and has several wild adventures.  When he reaches The Smithsonian he learns things may not always be what they appear.  Even though T.S. has always believed otherwise the world is, in fact, a mystery.

Through loss, self-reflection and self-discovery T.S. learns what is closest to his heart.  I enjoyed The Selected Work, but I found the voice of this twelve-year-old unbelievable and the open-ended multi-layered storyline left me unsatisfied. The beautiful notes and illustrations more than make up for these flaws.

Doing a bit of digging about the author, Rief Larsen, I found that he reportedly managed to win an initial advance of  $1 million dollars.  I wonder if the publishers were searching to fill the void left by the last Harry Potter novel?

This was my second book for the Random Reading Challenge.

Other reviews:


Literary License

Medieval Bookworm

The Book Catapult


Filed under Random Reading, Review

11 responses to “The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Rief Larsen

  1. I am WILD to read (and own) this book. At this point I kind of don’t even care about the quality of the narrative, it’s just. so. beautiful! But it sounds like the kind of story I would probably enjoy, as well. I loved the passage you chose!

  2. Oo! Marginalia & an excellent title! Maybe if I go into it expecting the narrator’s voice to be unrealistic, I won’t be bothered by it (she said optimistically). I’d never even heard of this but I don’t think I can resist….

    • Jenny – T.S.Spivet really is a fun book. The maps and notes and graphs drew me in and helped me get past the narrator’s voice. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I’m sorry you didn’t love this as much as I did! The unbelievable narrator is something I’ve seen in a lot of reviews, but I never had that problem myself.

    • Meghan – Thanks for the comment! I did enjoy The Selected Works, the maps and notes and the story line. I guess I had a hard time with the voice because I can’t imagine any 12 year old I know thinking or speaking those words!

  4. I liked this one a lot – but then again I’m a huge sucker for maps and mapmakers. I was kind of the ideal audience! I think it would work very well for teens, that’s why I included it last month in my YA column at Bookslut (along with an awesome book on unconventional mapmakers – “The Map as Art”.)

    • Colleen – Thanks for the comment. I loved the maps and graphs and notes in The Selected Works and the way they introduce the reader to different aspects of T. S.’s life. I agree it would work for teens, I’m going to try and get a copy for our school library.

      Thank for the tip about “The Map as Art”, I am going to check it out right now.

  5. I’ll have to take a look at this thing the next time I’m in a bookstore (ha, today or tomorrow, it won’t be long either way!). Your review has made me very curious. I also wonder if I could trouble you to e-mail me at the address on my blog one of these days; I have a special invitation for you for a readalong Emily and I are cooking up, but I couldn’t find your e-mail address anywhere to forward the details to you. Anyway, happy reading, Gavin!

  6. I just came across your blog; it’s great! I’ve been waiting to read this one. Great review.

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