Sophia Oomla leaves the talking world. When her teacher calls on her. When her classmates speak to her. But at midnight, when no one can hear her, no one can see her, she finds her tongue. In fact, she is the Star-of-the-Talking-World, and a vamp, too, who can strut and hold forth and thunder away in her very own clandestine Midnight Movie Star School. For Sophia Oomla only wants to talk in the Talking-World the way Movie Stars do, the way her Mother does. Because surely they are from the Land-of-the-Perfect, and not from the land that she comes from, the Land-of-the-Timid-Tongues. Because wordless-ducklings from that land get sentenced to see speech therapists for non-communication, like she's been.
Eloquent in one place, but not another?
Do you smell a paradox, Readers?
The magical creatures sure did. They lived in our protagonist's head and know all about minds and thinking, except why this girl could be so very confident in one place and so very faltering in another. Those creatures needed someone who not only understood the problem but who would write a book about it. Which lead their noses right smack to me, another falterer and a writer besides. Those sniffer-extraordinaires must've sniffed my own about-faces - like when my inside-me is dying to write but my outside-me can't type a word. So those tricksters drafted me to narrate Sophia's story. But those imps weren't finished; they knew that paradoxes were running amok in her parents, the Oomlas', minds as well and they insist I tell their story, too.
'Where the What If Roams and the Moon Is Louis Armstrong' wonders why somebody is one way on the outside, but inside, something else entirely. Can the Oomlas, can I, can anyone, live with our paradoxes? Or will each of us collapse like a house divided? And it wonders, too, about those nagging voices within, some of whom, in this story, take the form of magical creatures who wouldn't leave the Oomlas alone (or me, either). Just who are those voices? Who is that interrupting us, haunting us, stopping us from going on our merry way? Who really is inside us calling our shots? Our parents, the universe? Where do they end and our true selves begin? And how can we be who we really are if there are so many others inside us? And just who exactly is that pest inside Sophia who keeps comparing her voice to her Mother's? And who is that nagging voice within me that wouldn't let a writer write? Will Sophia ever stop believing it? Will I?
Esther Krivda has acted; studied ballet; worked as an admin in the movie studios in LA and in a talent agency in NYC; and loves to sing and draw faces. But she didn't discover writing til she took a course in Stop Motion Animation and soon found out her movie would need a script. And that's when she got the idea of a little girl who cries out but only the man-in-the-moon hears her. She never turned the idea into a Stop Motion Animation movie but she did turn it into this novel, her first.
"Esther Krivda's debut novel, Where the What If Roams and the Moon Is Louis Armstrong, is a special kind of book, the kind of book that warrants many readings and a future CliffsNotes edition. It is a long, heady emporium of a book. Krivda herself describes it as a modern psychological fairy tale. Indeed, there are fairies in this book. But her own description almost belies, or at least oversimplifies, the ambitious nature of this marvelous and virtuosic work. This is the kind of book that scares off publishers, intimidates readers, and announces a major literary talent. "Where the What If Roams alludes to both William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Krivda borrows from both. Dueling narrators, a self-aware author, and a rambunctious band of fairies constantly bicker and interrupt each other in the retelling of the central narrative, which revolves around a ten-year-old girl named Sophia Oomla, who, though she has trouble speaking, dreams of becoming a movie star. "Swiftian satire is at work in the parallel stories of Sophia's parents: her mother, Sigrid, who works in the New York-like city of Goliathon as CEO of Giggle, Inc., and her father, Sigmund, who works as a Freudian psychoanalyst in the Institute, a mental hospital treating distressed movie stars, or "Artistes." The plot focuses on one pivotal week in the lives of these and supporting characters, and Krivda uses italics to break out their polyphonic inner thoughts. "The author's technique doesn't so much produce stream-of-consciousness as it does rivers-of-consciousness. The writing is expansive, effusive, fluidly stylish, and full of quirky energy. Krivda unleashes multiple modifiers in her longer constructions, "her sparkly, coaxy, tickly, with-a-cherry-on-top voice," and shorter fragments in moments of dramatic tension: "She waited. And waited. Somebody was coming. Somebody. Was." This variety in construction, combined with an ample vocabulary and a propensity for neologisms like "CEOing," create an overall musical experience. Krivda is a verbal acrobat performing the rhythms of her imagination across the page: cartwheeling, dancing, pirouetting when needed. "Yet her playful loquaciousness doesn't preclude moments of plaintive realism. Getting to the heart of her characters, Krivda's wording and tone shift the way a magician's cape shifts, revealing some sad and indelible reality of the human condition: "And he felt every inch of that vast, friendless space. He could have used some human companions. And a real hero. And not a room full of fancy. And a mind full of guilt." "Though Krivda describes the novel as a "crossover" for both young readers and adults, it might be too challenging for early teen readers. But for older teens, and for adults especially, this is a fantastically important book about sorting out a cacophony of inner voices to find one's true voice. As Louis Armstrong, appearing as the Man in the Moon, reminds us toward the end of the book, "There never'll be another sound like the sound of you." -Clarion Foreword, five out of five stars