A lonely child’s fantasy life intersects with reality in this Korean War-era tale of separation and reunion.
At almost nine, Jake often escapes into his imagination, blotting out a couple of situations developing around him. He and his mother are hoping against hope that his father might someday return from the Korean War, and Jake cannot read. Words just seem to jumble up before his eyes, the other kids make fun of him, and worse – bullying has become routine. These days, Jake tries every ruse to skip school until he is referred to a reading counselor who figures it out. Jake is dyslexic, as is the counselor, and this may mean he is, in fact, more intelligent than average, as well as unusually intuitive.
Intuition begins to seep into Jake’s life as he spends time in the attic arranging the Christmas ornaments, wishing it could be “Christmas forever” for himself, and for everyone. One of the decorations is a porcelain figure of an old bearded man, Ebenezer, who holds a mysterious, unreadable scroll. Deciphering the scroll’s message will lead Jake into a world of psychic visions, ultimately leading to his conviction that his father is alive. Jake’s mother, who has built a sentiment-laden shrine to her lost love, holds on to the last shreds of hope even as her soldier husband is officially presumed dead. Together, she and Jake will learn the surprising truth.
Author Clausen (Prairie Son) has an excellent grasp of the emotive power of the past to awaken the reader to timeless influences. In this story, the Ebenezer ornament said to be 100 years old, links old customs with a child’s search for peace and reassurance in the present. As the boy travels through time with the ancient sage, he becomes stronger, better able to face his current struggles.
Clausen writes with authority about these two subjects, dyslexia and its effects on the mind, and “The Forgotten War” in Korea, where thousands of American soldiers remain unaccounted for to this day. He also links the earnest, childlike wishes of Jake to find solace and create solutions to the pervasive sadness of a mother mourning her husband while doing her best to support and encourage their only child.
The novel begins and ends in a present-day framework in which we learn that Jake has incorporated his childhood adventures into an adult striving to expand the “forever Christmas” concept to a broader spectrum.
Plausible fantasy with a clear connection to our national past composed by a practiced wordsmith, My Christmas Attic can be appreciated as a classic seasonal saga with a cinematic quality that speaks of broader possibilities.