Goodreads: If You Find This
A math and music genius, eleven-year-old Nicholas finds it difficult to fit in with the older students in his grade. Worse than having no friends, however, is the prospect of having to move out of his home, since his family can no longer afford it. When his grandfather, newly released from prison, arrives, Nicholas believes he has the opportunity to save the only life he knows, if he can find the family heirlooms his grandfather once hid. But his grandfather’s memories are fading and time is running out.
If You Can Find this struck me, from the summary on the cover, as one of those classic coming-of-age treasure hunt tales, the kind where the protagonist finds himself (and maybe a few friends) even if he never finds the material treasure he seeks. I love that sort of book and opened the pages of this one with anticipation. But what I read was nothing like I what I expected. Quirky characters and events might be expected in a coming-of-age tale–but not to the extent in which they appear here. As I read, the weirdness of the book overshadowed everything else, to the detriment of the story.
The opening pages should notify readers of the type of story they are about to experience, I suppose. The protagonist, Nicholas, announces at the start that his brother is a tree. One might think he speaks metaphorically, as his parents planted a tree in honor of the baby brother who was miscarried. But no, Nicholas really speaks to his brother the tree and his brother (if we can believe Nicholas) answers back.
I could have accepted this. Nicholas is, no doubt, a unique character, a math and musical genius who sees things no one else can see and who sometimes thinks too deeply for an eleven-year-old (or so his peers think). I found myself drawn in by his storytelling, interested in learning to see the world in a new way through his eyes. But when the supporting characters turned out to be rather strange, too, I found myself disconcerted.
Nicholas befriends two other misfits, one who not only communicates with dogs by barking but who also barks at people, and one who gives everyone he meets a nickname (most of them mean). The supporting characters appear mostly as strange or mean, too, from the homeschooled girl who speaks with the dead to the bullies at school and the high schoolers who torment younger children. I actually felt a little worried for Nicholas, living in a town full of bullies and mean-spirited children and teenagers who seem likely to end up in prison. His mother and another boy’s grandfather stand out as beacons of sanity in an otherwise bizarre town.
Of course, as the story progresses, one learns about the characters’ back stories and begins to see that all of the characters are tormented in their own ways, whether from home troubles or school problems or family losses. Watching the characters themselves learn about each other and their wounds is an emotional experience. Still, my sympathy for the characters did not make me find them less strange, nor the events that happen to them, from kidnapping a grandfather from the rest home to asking a child to conduct a seance. Everything that happens is wild and far-fetched.
I think somewhere in this book there is a nice story about a boy finding a grandfather he had never known and making friends. There is a story about accepting people for who they are and acknowledging their wounds. But, in the end, whenever I think of If You Find This, my overwhelming reaction is still “how strange!”