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We celebrated my oldest niece’s 6th birthday this past weekend. In addition to a clever comic book series for girls, which I’ll tell you about soon, I made her a small wooden box for storing her little seashells. After the party we took to the yard with newspaper and glittery paints and she transformed that plain old box into a thing of colorful beauty. I shouldn’t have been surprised as she’s told me many times she’s a great artist, dancer, gymnast and will probably go to the Olympics once she decides whether she wants to be a world famous volleyball player or snow boarder.

Don’t you love how modest kids are? Every demonstrated knack signifies a natural talent bound to lead to fame and riches. Lisa Graff’s children’s novel A Tangle of Knots plays with the notion of talent and how it effects lives for better or worse.

a tangle of knotsA world where a few lucky people have one true talent – whistling, tying knots, spitting – could be a lonely place if you find yourself without or worse, have your talent stolen.

10-year-old Caddy is an orphan with a talent for baking. Not only that, she can tell the perfect cake to suit any individual’s taste. She’s a sweet girl staying in Poughkeepsie, NY and hoping to be adopted any day now. You think this is going to be the story of how Caddy finds a home, and it kind of is, but not in a straightforward way. There’s a whole mess of characters with problems whose lives are unknowingly intertwined. They converge in a former peanut factory turned sort of boarding house.

All Caddy really wants is for her new adoptive father to keep her. To do that, she believes she needs to figure out his perfect cake, but for the first time, she can’t tell. Then there’s the crank below them who’s up to no good. Most characters want a chance to make up for past mistakes and live a happy life. For many, having a talent is a hindrance. They’re so focused on this one thing they do well that other areas, areas where failure could make them stronger, fall short.

I enjoyed the opening scenes, but lost interest pretty quickly. For me, there were so many characters and sub plots that I didn’t care about any of them. I kept wondering how a young reader would respond to the constantly changing points of view – if they’d find the story as unnecessarily convoluted as I did. A handful of characters/plots bogged down the pacing. Had they been cut, this probably would’ve been a more readable book.

I do love the concept of a fantasy that involves baking – each chapter ends with a mouth-watering cake recipe. I also loved the cover for this story, but will pass on buying it for my niece.