When Brit Damian Cunningham talks about any topic, he likes to start with the patron saint of the story. His big brother, Anthony, is into money and investments, but Damian is fascinated by saints. As this story begins, the boys' mother has died. They've moved with their father into a new house and started attending a new school. Dad has instructed Damian to be excellent and he tries very hard to be good, partly because he's afraid his father will vanish, as his mother did, if he fails. To that end, he answers his teacher in class in such long-winded detail or is so "quiet" that his teacher is concerned.
Damian builds a hermitage, or retreat, of cardboard boxes down by the train tracks. There, he has visions of saints. When the saints talk to him, he always asks if they've seen his mother.
England is changing to a new money system, so people are exchanging their old notes for the new "Euros." The boys enjoy watching the trains carrying England's old money off to be destroyed. One night, Damian is in his hermitage, praying. The train thunders past. A bag with millions of the old-fashioned pound notes --- an unbelievable fortune! --- tumbles off the train, crashing into the hermitage. Damian believes it's a direct gift from God in sympathy for the death of his mother.
Damian and Anthony don't tell their father of their sudden wealth out of concern for taxes. They discuss all they can buy: sea monkeys, fancy bikes, cell phones, computer games, houses. They must spend their wealth in 17 days, because when the new money system goes into effect, their notes will be worthless. Life becomes more and more complicated when thieves and police enter the picture.
The brothers treat school kids to soft drinks, and then bribe them for favors. Damian and Anthony buy their classmates' belongings for huge prices. Soon, they're lying to their father about where all their new toys have come from. Damian wryly notes that there's no patron saint of lying.
This book is flat-out amazing --- I've never read anything remotely like it. It manages to be simultaneously funny, horrifying, fantastical, realistic, sad, touching, and shocking. The plot twists are unpredictable, and the characters are believably quirky. A truly excellent read.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on July 7, 2004
- Publication Date: August 1, 2004
- Hardcover: 247 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins
- ISBN-10: 0060733306
- ISBN-13: 9780060733308