Theo Decker is a 13-year-old boy and he's in trouble. He and his mother set off for a meeting at school and when they have trouble in the cab and it begins to rain they stop at the museum for a quick look around. It's the stop that changes his life. As he wanders away from his mother and begins to follow a young girl and her grandfather a blast destroys much of the building, leaving many dead including Theo's mother. He spends the next few hours and days bewildered and in shock.
His mother is a gorgeous character that once you meet you don't want to let go. Told in Theo's voice he flatters his mother and lucky for us later reminisces about her. Tartt makes sure that each character is fully fleshed out and real to us including Theo's mother or we wouldn't know what he was missing.
"She looked startled, as if she'd forgotten I was there. The white coat-flapping in the wind-added to her long-legged ibis quality, as if she were about to unfurl her wings and sail away over the park." (16)
"Lalloping?" So much of her talk was exotic to my ear, and lollop sounded like some horse term from her childhood: a lazy gallop maybe, some equine gait between a canter and a trot. (17)
After the blast he is sent to live with a very wealthy childhood friend because his father had taken off and his grandparents are really not interested. He lives for awhile with his friends on Park Avenue for awhile until his dad and his new wife show up to claim him. His dad's true interest lies in whatever money or belongings his mother may have left but he'll take the kid if it will help his cause. Theo reluctantly packs up and is whisked off to Vegas with his dad and Xandra. A completely different way of life awaits Theo.
In school Theo makes friends with Boris, a young Russian who also loves to get Theo into trouble. Boris an amazingly funny character, lovable as the ruffian. He's Huck Finn to Theo's Tom Sawyer. Boris and Theo embark on a drug-crazed odyssey filling their days with drunken conversations about life that center on how bad they have it, how awful their father's are, and how hot Xandra looks in her work clothes.
Donna Tartt's wordy yet wonderful novel takes us on quite a journey with Theo as he eventually escapes back to New York and tries to make his way on his own terms. Yet his past keeps bumping back into him and old ways are hard to slough off. And the painting, The Goldfinch, is present throughout the story as an interesting twist that continually gives both pain and pleasure to poor Theo.
There comes a point in the book where you must just sit and read without answering your phone, your email, or even eating just so you can help Theo move toward a very shaky but present future. I finished it now several weeks ago and when I think of Theo and Boris, Hobie and Pippa all make me smile as I think about how we are all connected.
New York Times review by Stephen King
Huffington Post's thought by Maddie Crum