4 out of 5: T.S. Spivit is a precocious twelve-year-old "mapmaker" living with his family on a ranch in Montana. Along with maps of the ranch and his bedroom, T.S. maps things like "Gracie Shucking the Sweet Corn" and "Fear Is the Sum of Many Sensory Details." When his scientific illustrations of bombardier beetles land him the prestigious Baird Award from the Smithsonian (based upon the mistaken assumption of T.S.'s adulthood), T.S. jumps on a freight train and heads to Washington D.C. to accept his award. As you might expect, many adventures ensue. In T.S., Larsen has created a wholly loveable character. T.S. is sweet, curious, honest, naive, courageous, and one of the best characters I've encountered in contemporary fiction. On top of all that, he's still a (mostly) believable twelve-year-old:
I got up from the couch and did some calisthenics. I found another carrot stick that had migrated to the bottom of my suitcase and ate it without shame. I did some vocal warm-ups. And yet, I still could not shake the feeling of dull melancholy that had been lurking since my departure, a kind of persistent hollowness, similar to the feeling I got when eating cotton candy: initially there was so much associated nostalgia, so much promise emanating from those luscious pink threads, but when I got down to the act of licking it or biting it or whatever one did to cotton candy, there was just not a lot there--in the end, you were just eating a sugar wig.
Just about every page of this book is filled with T.S's marginalia, including illustrations, anecdotes, and random thoughts. T.S's story in prose combined with these inventive and attractive sidebars make for a multi-sensory reading experience that's like reading a carefully crafted journal. For me, the incomplete story-within-the-story in the book's mid-section and the rare supernatural occurrences were the only false notes in this otherwise imaginative, charming, and often hilarious book.