Sometimes it is hard for me to respond to a book as a reviewer. Some books hook me just the same way a book would have hooked me when I was ten years old, and I am in, along for the ride, imagining myself sleeping in Anne Boleyn's bed at the Met, or confronting an evil horseman in a snowy lane in Wales.
I think that's why I do this.
And do you know how kids recommend books to each other? Have you heard them try? It's no use trying to teach them to sketch the main character and then set up the situation - they're going to either tell the entire plot in minute detail or they're going to reproduce a run of dialogue, bafflingly out of context and unintelligible due to their uncontrollable excitement.
Possibly they're going to try to relate the mood of the book to an experience they've had - my friend Rabbit, who is thirteen, does this all the time, and I love it. I can never follow his parallels: "You know how like you could be in the desert, but it's cold, except it doesn't look like it could be cold? This book is exactly like that," but I could listen to him all day.
So if I were ten, I might say:
There's this kid Scott and he kind of thinks he's crazy because sometimes he sees things that nobody else sees, but he moves to a new town and he meets like the Lucky Charms leprechaun and the Trix rabbit except the leprechaun is like totally belligerent and the rabbit is majorly bummed and they're both on the run from the cereal company. Oh and the kid's dad is an actor/rock star who punched the Queen of England in the face.
But then I'd realize I was missing the minor despair and major loneliness of the main character, the smart humor, and the sharp sibling relationships, especially between the pair of not-really-twins that Scott befriends. So then I'd need to find this:
"Friends are so important," Haskoll continued. "More important than the air we breathe. But can I say, and I'm just being honest, that as far as human shields go, the Mayor of Munchkinland there is neither human nor a shield --"
"GAAH! Jeez!" Scott snarled suddenly. Even Mick jumped. "Could you possibly just go ahead and kill me?! You're not seriously so evil that you'ractually going to make me listen to you talk first, are you?"
"Whoah! Hey, Scotty's grown a pair --"
"Shut up. Okay? My name is Scott. Or Scottish, or..." Scott took a breath. "Look, just because you've won doesn't mean you're clever, or funny. You're just a horrible jerk with a gun. And an idiot. And you dress like an idiot. If you have a magic gun, you call it Ex-Calibre, okay? It's obvious. You stole Glamdring from The Hobbit."
"Ex-Calibre," Haskoll repeated. "Huh."
See, that is the exchange that indicates the Tide Has Turned in Scott's head. That is going to have your ten-year-old (or your ten-year-old self) bouncing up and down in his seat giggling and punching a fist in the air.
But if I were my pal Rabbit, I would glom onto this couple of sentences, uttered by the bad guy during a mercifully short Denoument Exposition (and I will regress to grown-up critic for a moment to say that an author's ability to keep the Inevitable Face-off Monologue from turning into a bloated flashback novella has become one of the metrics by which I judge his or her skill):
"I left a land of feral beauty and wonder and entered New Jersey. It probably goes without saying that I got a bit moody for the next ten or fifteen years,"
and if I were Rabbit, that would inspire me to try to describe Cold Cereal by telling about how if you were walking home from school one day, and in that trashy scrubby place behind the body shop? Honeysuckle was covering the fence and making like a cave between it and the telephone pole and there could be like this dwarf living in there but he'd be a total pain in the butt and every day when you came home from school he would jump out and demand your applesauce, and at first you would think that was some kind of scary metaphor but it turns out he was totally addicted to the little cups of applesauce you get at lunch, so even though you don't like applesauce, you'd have to ask for the little things of applesauce at lunch or else when you walked through that alley after school he'd jump out and pull your hair really bad. But then it turned out there was like a really tragic reason why he needed applesauce...
... and this book is a lot like that.
Pubs Feb 7. First in a trilogy. Horn Book has reviewed it favorably. Kirkus has already given it a star. ME TOO, Kirkus.