There are some authors, I freely admit, whose books I don't read. Not because I don't think I'll like them, or because I don't think I'd be able to recommend them, but because they are already appreciated and sought out by children. Dan Gutman is, of course, like this. Very few kids need my help discovering Dan Gutman.
When you check a kid's prior reading to get a bead on his/her likes and dislikes, there are certain books you can refer to. "What did you think of Harry Potter?" is a fair question - most every kid will at least know who Harry is. The Magic Tree House books (god bless 'em but don't make me read 'em) are in this category, but not a whole lot else. Wimpy Kid. And, of course, My Weird School. You can triangulate a kid's response to these known series to find where he falls on the axes of funny / mystery / fantasy. Hm. That graph would be an interesting thing to draw. Sounds like a job for xkcd.
So I read The Genius Files, which I received as a NetGalley download, more as an evaluation of my new Sony Digital Reader than as a book to review. I picked a book that I expected would be well-crafted, so that crappy writing wouldn't poison my experience with the Reader.
Unfortunately, I was about 25 pages into the book when we boarded an airplane for ALA Midwinter, and Son Number One totally hijacked my Reader. That kid loves whatever someone else is reading. I was left reading MIT Technology Review, not a bad consolation prize, but still. All the way out to California, Son Number One cackled and exclaimed through the book, caught up in the action, loving the characters, giving me brief, giggling, incomprehensible synopses of parts that he just couldn't keep to himself.
So I get out there, and I attend the Harper Fiction Breakfast, and the nice ladies at Harper had hard copy ARCs of The Genius Files. And I took one, dammit, because I wanted to read it too! Also, because when that kid finds a book he likes he reads it at least twice.
Now, after all this buildup, do you really need me to review the book? Here is my review: it is fun. There are weird bad guys, wacky gadgets, and a cross-country road trip. The main characters, twins named Coke and Pepsi, are good-humored and resourceful, with the requisite oblivious parents. The reader is encouraged to follow Coke and Pep's continental odyssey using a road atlas and Google Maps, both explicitly and by the inclusion of silly, intriguing landmarks like the World's Largest Ball of Twine (two of them) and the House on the Rock.
I love books like this - a funny mystery appeals to just about everyone, and when that funny mystery is written with this kind of ease and confidence you feel like you're putting those kids into good hands.