Monday, October 12
Burgers, Beasts, and Brainwashed Bullies
by Aaron Starmer
Denton, Wendell, Eddie, Elijah, and Bijay have been framed for a theft they never committed by Vice Principal Snodgrass. Rather than turn them over to the police with mountains of manufactured evidence the boys agree to follow Snodgrass into the basement of Ho-Ho-Kus Junior High where they are to study for the Idaho Exams. A more unlikely bunch of misfits could not be assembled, yet they realize that the only way out of this nightmare is to figure out what is going. Quickly they learn that above ground things have changed radically and realize that there is something darker afoot. With skills that would rival a Bond film, and action only a TV hero could achieve, our dudes will win the day and save the world from a fate they could never have imagined.
Starmer's debut carefully spring-winds the plot with the opening chapters by focusing on each of the boys. When they are taken to the basement and shut out from the world there is a palpable sense that they have been not only cut off from the world but from any hope of ever understanding how they got there. By following a different boy with each chapter Starmer is able to spend some time on each of the characters while propelling the story forward, a tricky and mostly successful endeavor. At times it can be difficult to follow the timing of the actions, and sticking with one character while plans and actions take place "off stage" feels a little like cheating at times.
But middle grade readers won't care. The story moves at the pace of a cartoon and the actions are relatively believable. One of these days the video gamer won't be able to hack into any computer system, and the kids won't all be smarter than the adults, and the world won't be saved at the last moment by an unruly bunch of boys. And that book will be a masterpiece all for the originality. Until then, readers who harbor fantasies that school administrators have the power to rule the world and that jocks are the ultimate bullies will eat up fantasies like this with a spoon. Double helpings, if you please.