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*The Skull of Truth: A Magic Shop Book* by Bruce Coville, illustrated by Gary A. Lippincott- young readers fantasy book review
Also by Bruce Coville:

Jennifer Murdley's Toad: A Magic Shop Book

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher: A Magic Shop Book
The Skull of Truth: A Magic Shop Book
by Bruce Coville, illustrated by Gary A. Lippincott
Grades 4-6 208 pages Magic Carpet Books March 2007 Paperback    

Charlie Eggleston: your “typical” sixth-grader, like all of us, getting along with his life as best he can. But, by his past experiences like the “Great Toad Fiasco,” he’s discovered that it’s not always a good thing to tell the truth. In fact, from being a boy who was known as being very truthful, he turned into one who was known for telling whoppers. That is, at least, until the eventful day he was being chased by the bully Mark Evans, who used to be one of his friends, through Tucker’s Swamp and stumbled upon Mr. Elives’ Magic Shop. Against his own sense of morality - and his will - he shoplifts an old skull: the Skull of Truth. He learns, in Bruce Coville’s book The Skull of Truth, the latest in his Magic Shop series of books and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, that telling the truth is always the best policy, but it’s definitely not always an easy thing to do. It can come with a cost and lose you friends - in the short term, anyway.

If you love R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, then you’ll probably also love The Skull of Truth. Sixth-graders Charlie Eggleston and his classmate Mark Evans haven’t got along for many years at the beginning of Coville’s book, ever since second grade when they and Gilbert Dawkins were best friends. Charlie’s efforts to save the swamp from being drained by Mark Evans’ father does nothing to improve their relationship, but he feels he has to do something to help preserve it. Still, what can a sixth-grader do to fight City Hall?

The Skull of Truth is an entertaining mix of mild horror, comic moments, and the importance of telling the truth. The talking rats that Mr. Elives uses to send Charlie messages of warning about the Skull of Truth and impending dangers help to move the action along. Charlie did wrong to shoplift the skull, but it compelled him to, and Mr. Elives knows that it wouldn’t be right to leave Charlie entirely in a lurch. Charlie learns that the Skull of Truth is cursed, and whoever possesses it also falls under the power of the curse. As the skull, Yorick (yes, THAT Yorick, from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet) tells him: “Now that I was dead, I not only had to speak the truth myself, I compelled it from others (p.80).”

Charlie finds himself in all sorts of trouble because of the curse Yorick brings him. When Gilbert comes back to school after a long sickness baldheaded, due to, Charlie later learns, cancer, and he’s asked how Gilbert looks, he responds:
“I think he looks totally doofy,” he said. “And I hope to god it never happens to me (p. 45).”
It’s not what he wanted to say, and he feels terrible after the words leave his mouth - but he can’t take them back. That same day, when a girl whom Charlie is sweet on, Karen Ackerman, is mad at him for being mean to Gilbert, Charlie can’t fight the urge to tell her that he doesn’t want her to be mad at him: “Because I love you (p. 47)!”

Just when Charlie thinks things can’t get any worse, they do. Mr. Elives’ letters have told Charlie, “Under no circumstances should you let the skull out of your possession (p. 32)!” For that reason, Charlie keeps the skull in his closet. To his horror, he discovers that the curse of truth spreads to everyone in the house, and he learns secrets about family members that shock him: his grandmother was once a stripper, and his Uncle Bennie’s “roommate,” Dave, is more than a good friend - he’s his lover! The author handles these revelations in a gentle manner that shouldn’t offend his readers, and they become an integral part of the overall plot.

The Skull of Truth is a great book in Bruce Coville’s Magic Shop series, and it’ll make you want to read all of the others, as well. He creates lively, believable characters you’ll care about and clothes moral issues in an entertaining, suspenseful story. Will Charlie break the curse? Will he ever become friends again with Mark and Gilbert? Will Karen Ackerman ever forgive him? Can he come to terms with the revelations he learns because of the curse? Recommended for anyone who likes suspenseful tales of mystery along the lines of R.L Stine’s books. Bruce Coville is a talented, award-winning author whose books you’ll be glad to have read.

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