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You Had Me At “Talking Cat”

In Bill Willingham's Down the Mysterly River, a terrific foursome (of mostly talking animals!) go on a quest for truth and survival.

You Had Me At “Talking Cat”

BOOK REPORT for Down the Mysterly River by Bill Willingham

Cover Story: Charming
BFF Charm: Yay x 4
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: Encyclopedia Brown Meets Narnia
Bonus Factors: Talking Animals, Quest, Illustrations
Relationship Status: Childhood Friend

Cover Story: Charming

I adore this cover. Sure, it leans more towards Y than A, but it really captures the adventurous spirit of the story, plus the typeface is worthy of the comic book cred of Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham.

The Deal:

Given my delicate constitution, it may surprise y'all to know that I was in Girl Scouts for about eight years. Here's proof in the form of this gratuitously included photo:

Keep in mind that most of those patches were for INDOOR activities, like computers and painting and reading and other important nerd life skills. Yeah, I wasn't what you would call a Katniss in the making. But looking back, I do kinda wish I'd learned some handy survival tips like how to start a fire and how to tie 100 different knots and how to splint my own broken arm. Especially because then, I'd be more like Max the Wolf. And Max is the coolest.

He's not a wolf, actually, he's 13-year-old (give or take) boy who is the superstar of his Boy Scout troop and a crackerjack amateur detective. He also has no idea where he is or how he got there. As he begins to explore the surrounding forest for clues, he meets Banderbock, a noble badger, McTavish, a mean, fugly cat, and Walden, a delightfully daft bear. All of them can talk, but none of them can explain how they arrived in the forest. To make matters much, much worse, an army of people called the Blue Cutters are intent on finding the foursome and performing a kind of spirit surgery with their blue swords. Using his powers of detection and his Boy Scout survival skills, Max leads his animal friends on quest for the truth, which, of course, includes lots of daring adventures.

BFF Charm: Yay x 4

I'm known for saying this when I'm drunk, but I'm actually sober right now, and I still mean it v. much: I LOVE YOU GUYS!!!!!! Max, you're so brave and good and honorable! Banderbock, you're so feisty and loyal and self-sacrificing! McTavish, you're such an asshole, but in an awesome way. And Walden, you make Winnie the Pooh look like a douchebag. GROUP HUG!!!!!

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

This is not a kissing book whatsoever. It's a story about the courageous adventures of a boy and his animal friends. They have to build fires and catch food and fight off Blue Cutters and solve mysteries! They don't have time for silly romance! And I promise, you won't miss it, either.

Talky Talk: Encyclopedia Brown meets Narnia

I was utterly charmed by the old fashioned style of this novel. Willingham succeeds in capturing the tone of classic adventure books, and Max reads like a more complex version of Encyclopedia Brown or a Hardy Boy. Given Willingham's credentials (I LOVE the Fables series), it's no surprise that he deftly created a fantastical world brimming with magic and mystery. Much like Narnia and the first few Harry Potter books, this is a book written for younger readers with a spirit that will appeal to all ages.

Bonus Factor: Talking Animals

I know I already gave Banderbock, McTavish and Walden my BFF charm, but you guys, they really do make this book. Their eccentric personalities are awesome and when combined, result in lots of hilarious friction and endearing ridiculousness. Walden especially is just THE CUTEST!!!!

Bonus Factor: Quest

Willingham uses all of the best ingredients for a good quest: evil villains (the Blue Cutters mean business), magical creatures, nail-biting action and fist-pump-worthy heroes.

Bonus Factor: Illustrations

Willingham recruited Mark Buckingham (who did the art for Fables) to create an illustration for each chapter, and his work echoes the old fashioned charisma of the book.

Casting Call:

Jonah Bobo as Max

If Jonah loses the hippie hair, he would definitely make a great Max.

Relationship Status: Childhood Friend

This book is the best playmate a kid could ask for. It has an OTC imagination, and I hated returning to the real world after our games of make believe. This book understands the importance of friendship and courage and all of the ideals that tend to fade along with innocence. It reminded me, as an adult, to cherish those ideals and celebrate my own imagination, and even though I actually didn't like the ending (no spoilers but WHAT? THAT'S IT?!!!), I appreciated the time off from being a grown-up.

Posh Deluxe's photo About the Author: Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs films at the Alamo Drafthouse. Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and anything that sparkles (except vampires).