Not so long ago, a baby who was tied to a wooden plank washed up on the shore of a nameless island. His parents' bodies washed up soon after him, and from the father's pocket the islanders learned the child’s name was Medford Runyuin. Medford was taken in by the island family of Boyce Carver. Another few years passed, and Medford's kind foster mother died; Boyce raised Medford the best he could on his own.
So begins Ellen Booraem's first book, THE UNNAMEABLES. Medford's story isn't just about an orphan coming of age and trying to find his place in the world. In the author’s inventive hands, Medford's journey to maturity and acceptance is complicated by the fact that the island he washed up on is home to a strange and isolated community of people obsessed with names, usefulness and propriety.
The Islanders came to the island many generations ago, looking for freedom and happiness. They turned to a curious book, A FRUGALL COMPENDIUM OF HOME ARTS AND FARM CHORES by Capability C. Craft, written in 1680, to provide guidance and advice. By the early 1700s, the Islanders had amended the book to reflect their concern with each person and each item being named according to use and purpose. Those who fished changed their names to Fisher, those who taught changed their names to Learned, and those who gardened changed their names to Gardener. Cows were known as Greater Horned Milk Creatures, and Horses were called Hauling Creatures. Anything that had no use was Useless and understood as dangerous; those things lacking a name or purpose were known as Unnamable and were the most dangerous of all. For an orphan named Medford Runyuin, whose name was strange and meaningless, the Island was a difficult place to live.
Things get even more complicated for Medford when a fantastic and possibly magical goatman from the Mainland comes to the Island (along with a very stinky dog). He encourages Medford to challenge the Island conventions and see the beauty and power of things that are “useless.” Medford's rebellion spreads across the Island, and the Islanders must choose to join Medford in search of personal happiness or keep their own secrets hidden forever.
THE UNNAMEABLES is a captivating read. While the narration is a bit slow in some parts, it is thoughtful and interesting. Booraem presents some of the universal themes of children's literature in a new way, and readers cannot help but cheer Medford on as he discovers the meaning of family and friendship, independence, and the importance of art and expression.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 21, 2011
- Publication Date: March 21, 2011
- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Sandpiper
- ISBN-10: 0547552130
- ISBN-13: 9780547552132