A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff *I had technical difficulties with this post on Friday, but hopefully the issues are all resolved now! Also, I am trying a little different format, trying to figure out the best way to present all the potential moral issues. Please let me know what you think! Thank you!*

A Tangle of Knots is truly a tangle of 9 different perspectives, but it somehow manages to wrap up into a clear story by the end. It is a bit confusing to keep 9 characters’ voices separate early in the story so I would say this book is definitely for an advanced reader or as a read-aloud for 7 and up. There are great descriptions of cakes in the book, along with recipes, so you might want to be prepared to do a little baking if your child is reading this book. I know I’m wanting to try “Miss Mallory’s Peach Cake” as soon as possible – it sounds delightful! The overall message of this book is each person is unique and valuable even without a great skill (or Talent, as it is called in the story), and that everyone has a place, no matter how unconventional. I found a heartwarming review of this book here. I think it sums up the heart of the story.

My Mom-Meter gives this book an overall safety rating of 2 (Moderately Safe) for ages 10 and up.

I have not found a good summary of the plot (it’s so complicated!), so I will try my best to sum it up. A chance meeting with a knot salesman creates a tangled web of relationships that takes 53 years to resolve. One family is just a mess. Mason Burgess, known throughout the story as The Owner, is a bitter old man who owns the Lost Luggage Emporium. He lost his inheritance 53 years ago and now steals other people’s Talents. His son, Toby, had been married, but his wife died after having a baby girl. Toby put the week-old baby girl in an orphanage because he thought he would be a terrible father. His daughter, Cady, grew up in an orphanage run by a very sweet woman, Miss Mallory. Miss Mallory has the Talent of matching people up to what they need. Cady has the Talent of baking the exact cake a specific person would like (thus, the cake recipes). Cady ends up adopting Toby and Miss Mallory as her parents, even though they have no romantic tie. Toby’s mother-in-law, V, is a bestselling author of mysteries, but she has a stroke and cannot remember how to speak or understand words. The Asher family rents rooms from the Owner to stay in temporarily. Everyone in the Asher family has a Talent except for Marigold, the middle child. She spends most of her time trying to figure out her Talent, but learns that her best gift was the patience she learned through not having a Talent. Marigold’s mother, Mrs. Asher, has to make things right after years of thinking her Talent of fast knitting had to define her. She had loved being an archaeologist, and stole a crucial bone from a dig years ago. Zane, the oldest Asher child, has the Talent of “perfect spitting,” which is perfect aim while spitting. He has been in lots of trouble with his school. Zane’s principal called him “worthless,” and Zane cannot get that word out of his mind. He spends most of the book trying to steal to earn money to make up for the trouble he has caused. In the end, he learns that Talents are not worthless, but they need to be pointed in the right direction. The youngest Asher child, Will, has the Talent of disappearing, and he longs for adventure. One day, he finds adventure, thanks to the knot salesman, and it leads him all over the place, but he ends right back with his mother, happily eating cake.

Here are the potential moral issues parents might wish to talk with their kids about:

Magic:

  • Fate is mentioned 4 times.
  • Cady is described as “pixieish,” “sprite of a child,” “pixie of a girl”
  • The entire story has hints of Talents being magical and mysterious. The Owner steals Talents in a way that is hard to describe, but it sounds like magic.
  • Will pretends that The Owner is an “evil wizard.” Will is looking for adventures with monsters, giants, or cake.

Language:

  • Someone says “Heavens!”
  • Someone is called a dolt.
  • Zane says “stupid principal,” “stupid letter,” and “stupid aircraft.”
  • Someone says “God help me.”
  • Someone is called “the old bat.”
  • Someone says “idiots.”
  • Someone is called a “screwup.”
  • Someone is called an “imbecile.”
  • There is a “farting” joke.
  • The Owner says “You damn kids!” three times.
  • The word “butt” is used once.

Violence:

  • A woman has a stroke, and thinks she is dead for a moment. She is glad because she thinks she will see her dead daughter.
  • A hot air balloon hits the side of an apartment building and knocks a hole in the wall.
  • Toby almost hits Cady with his truck.
  • Marigold loses her temper and shoves Zane into the road, and into traffic.
  • The Owner hits Zane with his car.

Gambling:

  • It is implied that two kids had bet on a game (the boy has to pay the girl a nickel when he loses at jacks).

Bad attitudes:

  • Zane is talking back in school. He ditches class and spits at people. He steals and sells the stolen items to a pawn shop. 
  • The Owner steals other people’s Talents and doesn’t really use them. He just keeps the Talents in jars.

Potential Discussion Points:

  • The Owner’s mother told him, “Talent is only rewarding if you wield it well.” Potential Discussion Point: Was The Owner’s mother right? How do you wield Talent well?
  • Zane’s principal calls him worthless and Zane hears that word over and over in the story. Potential Discussion Point: Words have power.
  • Zane thinks he needs to come up with a good lie to tell his parents when they get a letter from the principal. Potential Discussion Point: Do you think that telling a lie would really solve Zane’s problems? Do you ever think that a lie would solve your problems? Does a lie ever make things better?
  • Mrs. Asher tells Cady “All a parent really wants from his child is her happiness.” Potential Discussion Point: Is Mrs. Asher right? What do you think we want from you?
  • Toby thinks he “failed as a father.” Potential Discussion Point: You might want to talk o your children about why people give their children up for adoption.
  • Zane thinks his parents will send him to a boarding school unless he does something really great, like come up with the money to pay for the hole in their apartment building. His parents are not planning to send him to boarding school. Potential Discussion Point: Do you think there is anything Zane could have done to make his parents send him to boarding school? Why do some kids go to boarding school? What is boarding school really like?
  • Marigold says “No one in this family understands anything about me.” Potential Discussion Point: Do you ever feel the way that Marigold did? What is one thing you wish we understood about you?
  • Will went along with a stranger. “His parents had been very clear that he should never, ever go anywhere with strangers. But they’d never said anything about giants.” Potential Discussion Point: Did Will really try to obey his parents’ rule or did he try to get around it? Do you ever try to get around a rule by finding some technical way around it? Why do you think Will’s parents made that rule?
  • The Owner said “Let’s see who’s the failure now, Dad” Potential Discussion Point: We have to be so careful with our words. The Owner was still hearing the mean things his dad had said to him many years ago, just like Zane and the principal. Do you think that you have ever said words that would hurt someone for years to come?
  • Mrs. Asher hid the bone she had discovered as an archaeologist for years. Potential Discussion Point: What was wrong about what Mrs. Asher did? How did her actions affect the world?
  • “Marigold knew – she’d been told her whole life – that if you did something wrong, you should be punished for it (Shouldn’t you?) And if you tried really hard at something you should be rewarded. (Right?)” Potential Discussion Point: Do you think that is true? Is that how you have observed things working in our home and at school?
  • Will asks his mother “Have you ever had anything you loved doing… Something that was worth getting into big trouble for?” Potential Discussion Point: Are there things worth getting into trouble for? What things do you think are worth it? (you might even talk about civil disobedience, although Will is talking about just doing things he loves)
  • Cady ends up adopting her father and Miss Mallory, who are not romantically involved at all. Potential Discussion Point: What is adoption? Can a child adopt two adults? If a child can do that, do the two adults need to be husband and wife?
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