October 24, 2005 12:00 PM

By Victoria Vinton

In August of 1892 British writer Rudyard Kipling was living in Vermont, a place he had longed to visit since childhood. Already a literary success, he was at work on his Jungle Book stories, which feature Mowgli, an Indian boy raised by wolves. In her lyrical, elegant first novel, Vinton brings Joe Connolly, a farm boy whose father has little time for him, into the life of the author, who becomes his exotic new neighbor. Kipling, whose childhood had unhappy stretches, teaches Joe to ride a bicycle and delightedly discusses his writing with his young friend. That the author can conjure the jungle’s sounds and colors and its fetid heat is wondrous to Joe. But what thrills him most is Mowgli—the character’s skills as a hunter, his independence from adults—and it is Mowgli’s self-sufficiency that tempts him to make a rash but ultimately wise decision. Even if you’ve never spent time with Kipling’s writing, you’ll savor making his acquaintance and meeting his compelling fictional neighbor.


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