Toronto writer Cary Fagan is the author of a number of children’s books, including Jacob Two-Two and the High Seas (2009), the fourth book in the Jacob Two-Two series originated by Mordecai Richler. After reading Banjo of Destiny, I can see why the Richler family and publishers settled on Fagan to continue the illustrious series. There is something light and almost fable-like about his writing.
Banjo of Destiny is the story of rich kid Jeremiah Birnbaum, who has everything a kid could wish for and more. His life is changed irrevocably when he hears the “weirdly old and jumpily alive” music of the banjo one day. Wanting him to continue with his classical piano lessons (even though he’s terrible) and make them proud at the school talent show (even though he’s terrified of it), his parents forbid him to buy a banjo. Try as he might to follow his parents’ wishes, Jeremiah can’t shake the hold the banjo has on him. He ends up interpreting their edict rather literally, and sets about making an instrument of his own from odds and ends he finds and salvages. Learning to play is more difficult than he imagined, but it is really the design of the banjo and Jeremiah’s determination to construct one that fuels the action of the book. This is an original idea, well written and perfectly paced, with fun characters. The ‘point’ comes through in the simple story, not a big billboard of a message at the end. I’ll definitely look for more from Cary Fagan.