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>Man Without a Face redux

Or Batman and Robin, or maybe it’s simply Twilight for little gay guys, but Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain is quite the adolescent epic of doomed, yet eternal, love. Philip, the half-Chinese son of a wealthy colonialist, is sixteen when he meets Endo-san, an older Japanese man who has rented the small island owned by Philip’s family, offshore their palatial home on the Malayan island of Penang. It’s 1939, so you know this isn’t going anywhere good, but the boy and man become inseparable, Philip introducing Endo-san to the nooks and crannies of Penang; Endo-san teaching Philip the martial arts and Zen philosophy of his homeland. On the page, there’s nothing sexual between the two, and readers can decide for themselves just whether all the kisses and embraces and intense soul-searching gazes exchanged by the two constitute a romantic liaison or simply a very close friendship, one that, Endo claims, the two have had in previous lives and will go on to have in the future. The writing is just naive enough to make me wonder whether the author fully knew what he was implying but regardless, The Gift of Rain is a Boy Book writ large–tons of action, explosions, hand-to-hand combat, swordplay (heh), Eastern philosophy, spies, betrayals, secret caves, oaths, seppuku, and hardly a girl to be seen (except for Philip’s plucky older sister and an old Japanese lady–also a martial artist–who encourages the now-elderly Philip to relate the story of his youth). I do hope boys can get past the flashback structure and the Oprah-looking cover for the grandly idealistic war story and safely sublimated romance.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Anonymous says:

    >I notice that the Library of Congress (where I work) cataloged both the British edition (published in 2007) and the U.S. edition (published in 2008) as adult novels. Do you know if the title has ended up in any YA collections?

    Lyle Blake Smythers

  2. Roger Sutton says:

    >It was definitely published for adults, Lyle, but has a probably unintended boyishness to it I think kids would respond to. As a grownup reader, I was occasionally embarrassed by the plaintive earnestness of the writing but I kept thinking that as a fifteen-year-old I would have LOVED this book.

  3. Anonymous says:

    >The disconnect between the book/audience you describe and the cover image could hardly be greater. The book looks it’s about… tea?

  4. Roger Sutton says:

    >Worse: it looks like it’s about the memory of tea.

  5. Anonymous says:

    >”Darjeeling Dawns,” the looked for sequel to “Ceylon Evenings,” coming this fall.

  6. Anonymous says:

    >And the question I hate to ask but must, how hard do you think it is? (My boys who would like it are not the strongest readers necessarily.)

  7. Roger Sutton says:

    >You might need to booktalk someone through the opening section, set in the present day and narrated by an old man about his present circumstances. Tell ’em it’s worth it. It’s not a book for “reluctant readers,” but eighth-graders on up who like a challenge could get into it.

  8. >An old lady who’s a martial artist–I’m so there!

  9. I love when I can see through the lens of the past what my earlier self would have loved, even if my older self is, yes, embarrassed or attuned to the flaws–and I love that you’re doing that here. I also appreciate when a kidlit critic can poke (heh heh) a little grown-up fun–e.g., swordplay. Always a plus to have an age-appropriate sense of humor about the field when the kids themselves are asleep. So thank you for this post–and the book sounds hilarious!

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