Young Peter Nimble is a foundling, discovered floating in a basket by a group of sailors. He is also blind. And as the opening line of this unexpectedly enchanting debut YA novel by Canadian expatriate Jonathan Auxier notes, “Now, for those of you who know anything about blind children, you are aware that they make the very best thieves.” Thus the tone is set. Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes is both a pull-no-punches adventure with the darkness of the most authentic fairy tales, and a whimsical romp in a fictional world where anything is possible.
Spending the first five years of his life alone and on the streets (a feat in itself), Peter has developed extraordinary thieving abilities, which catch the attention of the Fagin-like Mr. Seamus. Peter spends another five years under Mr. Seamus’s thumb, developing and honing his skills, all the while dreaming of a happier life in a warm, loving home.
While out on a double-shift for his master, the young thief encounters an exciting haberdasher, whose complexly locked carriage poses exactly the kind of challenge Peter loves. He manages to steal a mysterious box, and finds treasure within: three pairs of magical eyes, the first of which convey him to their creator the instant he pops them into his empty sockets. And there begins the real adventures of Peter Nimble.
Macabre in the way that only children’s fiction can be, Auxier’s novel contains plenty of scenes of the sort that make adults squirm with distaste while children wriggle with delight. Magic abounds, but is treated in a matter-of-fact manner, and the informal narrative style, reminiscent of Lemony Snicket, is entertaining.
While the mystery of Peter’s past is all too easy to solve, the path he takes to reach his destiny has many unexpected twists and surprising turns. The book’s quirky nature, distinctive plot, and fresh themes will draw young readers in and spark their imaginations, earning it a place on the shelf for re-readings.