I just went to write a review of this book lamenting the fact that it has been out of print for many years, when I discovered to my joy that it was just rereleased in a pretty new cover! What a wonderful, wonderful surprise! I have a battered used copy (two, in fact, just in case one disintegrates), but I cannot wait to buy the new edition!
Ellen Raskin is mostly known for her Newbery winning book THE WESTING GAME, one of my all-time favorite books, but her other books are just as brilliant. In fact, I am hard-pressed to decide which I love more: THE TATTOOED POTATO or THE WESTING GAME. But let’s just talk about POTATO, shall we?
Okay, now I have to figure out how to describe this story, the story of an art student named Dickory Dock, who lives with her brother, Donald Dock, since the murder of their parents in their pawn shop (Dock’s Hock Shop). Dickory has just gone to work for a slick, popular portrait painter named Garson, who lives in a strange old house divided into apartments and insists that she describe everyone who comes to the door using only one word. (Blonde. Shrimps. Greasy.) And the people who come to Garson’s door are unusual to say the least: Mafia thugs, police detectives, vengeful bald women, and a chipper socialite named Cookie Panzpresser are frequent visitors. And so mystery piles upon mystery. Why does Garson insist that Dickory describe every visitor, even if they are coming to see his tenants? Why does the detective keep asking him for helping solving various (and hilarious) crimes? Why are there two easels in the studio, one always kept covered next to a bizarrely dressed mannequin? And why does Garson sometimes arrive in disguise to his own home?
Raskin deftly weaves together a brilliant story, rich with unusual clues that even the most discerning reader may not catch until the very end. And, despite supposedly being intended for a younger audience, Raskin does not pull any punches. Dickory’s parents were murdered, and the murderers never found. Garson may be a murderer himself, and has a strange connection to a brain-damaged man who lives in the basement of his house. But there is a great deal of humor in the mix, as well as a tinge of romance.
But what truly makes this story a standout is the amazing cast of characters, from the haunted Dickory, the enigmatic Garson, to his portrait subjects in all their vain, yet vulnerable, glory. After my first reading of this book, I fell madly in love with Garson. A second reading made me truly adore and admire Dickory, which led me to notice how much her brother Donald resembles my brother Jeff . . . and so on until I have to admit to a crush on pretty much all the characters!
So go to it, my friends! Discover the secret of THE TATTOOED POTATO! And while you’re at it, you should try THE WESTING GAME, if you haven’t already. And I see that FIGGS & PHANTOMS and THE MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF LEON (I MEAN NOEL)are also back in print, and it’s about darn time!
Market: Middle Grade
Violence: Some, PG-13 level
Mature Themes: Financial struggles, mention of murder and a serious car accident, lying, stealing, and the mafia, but nothing graphic or unsuitable for younger readers.