HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Black Bottle Man
Author: Craig Russell
Publisher: Great Plains, republished 2020
Related website(s): http://www.greatplains.mb.ca (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Young adult (ages 16 and up)
Rating: **** 4 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Russell, Craig. Black Bottle Man (Published in 2010 by Yellow Dog; republished in 2020 by Great Plains Teen Fiction, an imprint of Great Plains Publications, 1173 Wolseley Ave., Winnepeg, MB R3G 1H1). The action begins in 2007 with a ninety year old man named Rembrandt who is sleeping at the Salvation Army’s Sally Anne dormitory in Boston, MA, but it quickly goes back to 1927, when ten year old Rembrandt is the only child in the tiny community of Three Farms somewhere out west in Canada. He lives on one farm with his Pa and Ma. The other two farms belong to Pa’s brother, Uncle Thompson and his wife Aunt Emma, and to Pa’s sister, Aunt Annie and her husband Uncle Billy. His two aunts soon grow desperate for babies of their own. A man wearing a black top-coat and a glad-ta-meet-ya smile arrives with a magic bottle, and a deadly deal is made.
Determined to undo the wager, Rembrandt, Pa, and Uncle Thompson embark on the journey of their lives to seek a champion capable of defeating the Black Bottle Man. But if they stay in one place for more than twelve days terrible things occur. What happens to the three travelers? When and where might they find their champion? And will they ever make it back home? Black Bottle Man is categorized as “Teen & Young Adult Christian Fantasy.” One reviewer called it “a young-adult horror story.” Another said that it speaks “of profound love, of commitment to family, of humility, of grace under pressure.” It has all that, but it also has references to drinking (even young Rembrandt takes a swig of Uncle Billy’s whiskey) and discussions of engaging in “congress” (i.e., sex) to make babies. And there is quite a bit of what many feel is bad language, such as the “h” and “d” words (the latter sometimes with the prefix “god”)—even young Rembrandt uses the “d” word. And there are a few others that I’ll not specify.
Some authors, even of “Christian” fiction feel that they have to include such language to be “realistic.” Personally I don’t care for it, think that it’s unnecessary, and have trouble highly recommending a book that takes the name of God in vain, but each person will have to make up his own mind. There is an interesting story in this spiritual fable based on the Faustian concept of selling one’s soul to the devil, and it is well told. Bits of historical fiction are mixed in with special emphasis on the Great Depression, and some important lessons are found including the dangers of dabbling in the occult and the triumph of good over evil. Rembrandt is certainly an engaging and sympathetic character. A few readers may find the hop-skip-and jump-around narrative with all its flashbacks a bit hard to follow. Also the situation with Gail Brewer and her decision is a little unclear for much of the book, but it all eventually ties together in a lovely and satisfying conclusion.