The stand-alone sequel to The Doldrums, which the New York Times called “a dreamy charmer of a book,” is a second tour-de-force by author-illustrator Nicholas Gannon. It brims with the spirit of exploration and celebrates the bond of friendship. The exquisite package features Gannon’s distinctive full-color art throughout, as well as black-and-white spot illustrations. The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse is a timeless tale and a beautiful gift for a young reader. Archer Helmsley’s grandparents—famous explorers who went missing on an iceberg two years ago—are finally coming home. Archer is overjoyed, but he may be the only one. Rumors are flying that Archer’s grandparents were never really abandoned on the iceberg; that they’re making it all up. Archer knows that the rumors are false. With his best friends, Oliver and Adélaïde, and their new neighbor, Kana, Archer sets out during a snowstorm to rescue his grandparents’ reputation. In the tradition of Roald Dahl, Lemony Snicket, and Brian Selznick, Nicholas Gannon’s wildly imaginative world of The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse is packed with sly humor, an undeniably charming cast of characters, and the thrill of discovering secrets and adventures right in your own backyard. With approximately twenty pieces of full-color artwork, as well as black-and-white spot illustrations, and deft, literary writing, Nicholas Gannon once again creates a fully realized world and a story to sink into and explore.
The Doldrums and the Helmsley CurseFeatured
While there are consistent themes of friendship across both books, this one branches out in several varied respects. First, there’s Archer’s chance at a relationship with the grandparents his mother has kept him away from since he was a baby. Will they be everything he’s hoped and longed for, or is there something to the rumors swirling about them? There is the mid-book addition of a possible new female member to Archer’s trio of friends. And then there’s the difficult matter of Archer’s boarding school friend and roommate—who happens to be the son of the man the Helmsley’s suspect of arranging the iceberg incident. It’s this last point where Archer is faced with the difficult task of empathizing with someone he cares for, but believes is being misled. It also presents him with an opportunity to NOT judge someone by their family ties—which is a grace he’s not being afforded by most of his own city.
On that last note, it’s worth mentioning that there is an added conflict thread involving a popular local paper that’s willing to leap to accusatory conclusions about the long-lost Helmsleys. The readiness with which most of the city’s population believe this tabloid-worthy gossip is both timely and sadly believable. It also carries alienating consequences for Archer and his friends.
As it was with the first book, Gannon’s illustrations are a tremendously artful source of charm and vintage ambiance. Whether it’s the full page or small portrait segments, black-and-white or richly colored, the detailing is distinct and affecting.
Archer’s mother is still a controlling, wretched, and borderline emotionally abusive source of side antagonism on the outskirts of the main plot. And unfortunately, we aren’t privileged with much by way of character growth in her, or the reasoning behind why she’s so uncaring toward her own parents. But at the same time, she is perhaps a broad-stroke example to young readers of an irrational and callous misuse of parental authority.
Ultimately this seems a more complex story, but one that’s been executed with the same deft quality as the first book in the series.