The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan & John Parke Davis
The Map to Everywhere is the first installment in a new four-book children’s fantasy series by Carrie Ryan and her husband John Parke Davis. I listened to it with my daughter Tali, who just turned 13. The story made us smile and chuckle occasionally and generally kept us entertained for several hours. We thought it compared favorably with other new fantasy series for kids, but we weren’t blown away.
The story is about two children in tough situations. Marrill is an American girl who gets to travel around the world with her archeologist parents. She has just found out, though, that her mother is sick and the family will have to settle down for a while so that her mom can get treatment. That means Marrill will be going to school and doing all the boring stuff that normal kids do. Upset about this (and that her mom is sick, of course), she goes off for a walk with her cat and, while crossing an empty parking lot, gets swept up by a huge ship riding the “Pirate Stream,” a magical body of water that has the power of creation. Anything that goes into the Pirate Stream, unless it’s made of a certain type of wood, gets mutated into something else, usually something grotesque.
The other child is an orphaned boy named Fin who, for some unknown reason, is literally forgettable. Nobody remembers him after they’ve interacted with him. This has made it easy for Fin to learn some tricks that allow him to survive on his own. For example, he can live in people’s houses, or steal things because, even if he gets caught, they’ll forget about him as soon as he’s out of sight. But it also means that he has no family and friends. No support network… until he ends up on the pirate ship with Marrill. Somehow she can remember him!
Because they both feel alone in this world, Marrill and Fin are immediately drawn to each other. They are also both interested in the “Map to Everywhere” that the captain of the ship, an eccentric wizard, is looking for. The Map is supposed to be able to lead its holder to any person or place they want to find. Marrill wants to find her way home, and she plans to ask the wizard to try to heal her mom. Fin wants to find his mother. But the Map has several parts which must be hunted down and obtained first. The kids are willing to help with this. The problem is that there’s an evil villain who wants the Map for his own purposes. The quest is simple: complete the map by traveling the Pirate Stream and finding its parts (the legend, the compass rose, the border, the scale), and do this before the villain does.
Carrie Ryan & John Parke Davis succeeded in developing characters that most children will immediately like, feel sorry for and, therefore, care about. It’s easy to hope that all will turn out well for these kids — that Marrill will find her way home with help for her mother, that Fin’s mother will be found and will love him, and that whatever spell or curse is keeping Fin from being remembered will be broken. I’m assuming we won’t know all these things until the end of book four, which probably guarantees that fans will continue buying these books. For me and Tali, it was this, and not the plot, that was the most compelling aspect of The Map to Everywhere. We felt sorry for these kids.
We enjoyed the authors’ fanciful characters, creations, locales, and use of language. For example, Fin has a jar of bugs that eat darkness, the kids get trapped in a grove of vines that sprout and spread like Kudzu when they hear people passing rumors. (I appreciated the warning to children about the danger of starting and spreading rumors, but would have preferred for the lessons to be a little more subtle.) I loved how the authors used the scale of the Map. To avoid spoilers, I won’t explain, but I thought it was very clever.
However, we thought the plot went down a little too easily. It was light, often silly and cartoonish, and though there were twists and setbacks, I never really felt the sense of fear or danger that should have been present. I enjoyed the sense of whimsy, but I would have liked more tension, a little darkness, and a few spine-tingling moments. Instead it was breezy and light, even when the kids were in dire peril.
Another aspect of The Map to Everywhere that I really liked was the emphasis on friendship. Fin has never had a friend before, since nobody remembers him. In one sense, life was easier when he never had to worry about anyone but himself, and it never mattered how he treated anybody. But now that Marrill can remember him, he has to learn how to behave like a friend. It’s interesting to think about how human memory affects how we engage with others. If you knew that you were interacting with someone who would not know you or even remember the interaction five minutes later, you’d probably act differently than you normally do. Other than satisfying your own ethical standards, there’d be few practical reasons to be kind to someone who wasn’t going to remember the interaction. How many of us have neglected to visit an elderly relative with dementia because we know that our visit won’t be remembered? It makes me wonder what my true motivations are when I’m kind to someone. Is it just so that they’ll remember my kindness and think well of me, or am I truly kind? It’s similar to that old question about whether altruism really exists. I think most readers will find this aspect of the book challenging.
We listened to the audio version of The Map of Everything and enjoyed John Glouchevitch’s narration. The book is 11 hours long. The print version features some wonderful art by Todd Harris at the beginning of each chapter. The second book, City of Thirst, will be available in October.