For those of us who spend a lot of time with kids (as I do: students, offspring, short relatives, hordes of neighborhood children stomping around my house all day), we’ve all had the experience of reading a kid’s book and wanting desperately to shove it into the hands of every grubby-faced, scabbed-kneed, gap-toothed kid of our acquaintance. There are some books that speak fluent Kid – and do so in a way that jock kids and nerdy kids and anti-establishment kids and outdoorsy kids and adventurous kids and timid kids will all somehow see a hint of their experience reflected in this novel.
There is a mystery in the woods behind Tanglewood – one that could possibly destroy the town, and Eric Parrish – football player, pig keeper, rotten big brother and poor-choice-maker – decides to find out exactly what it is…..before it’s too late! THE TANGLEWOOD TERROR, by Kurtis Scaletta does it for me on so many levels. Indeed, because of this, I’ve decided to compose a list:
KELLY BARNHILL’S LIST OF REASONS WHY SHE DIGS THIS BOOK:
1. SCIENCE! – Now, I love science fiction as much as the next geek, but one thing that we really do not see enough of – in Middle Grade fiction – is fiction that engages explicitly with scientific facts, and uses the unravelling of mysteries in the natural world as a tool to raise the stakes and deepen the mystery. I’ve always been fascinated with fungi and have spent a lot of time mushroom hunting, particularly when I lived on the West Coast. But here we have GLOWING MUSHROOMS! And MONSTER FUNGI! And MAD ADVENTURES! And KOOKY OLD SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS! And SECRET HOVELS! And it’s awesome.
2. PIGS! Honestly, there are not enough pigs in children’s literature. And the pig in this particular book is a delightful creature and I adore her.
3. FOOTBALL! You don’t see a whole lot of books in which science and football overlap, but they do so here. Eric Parrish, like most kids, is good at a lot of stuff, and tries to be better at a lot of stuff and is interested in a lot of stuff. And his willingness to engage in the different parts of himself is one of the things that makes his portrayal so real, so genuine and so endearing.
4. PESKY, UPPITY GIRLS! ‘Nuff said.
5. BULLYING! Actually, that’s not a good thing – of course it’s not – but the issue of bullying, and the consequences both overt and subtle, and the toll that it takes on a person, are all handled with the sensitivity and grace of a grownup combined with the cluelessness and confusion of a kid. It’s handled extremely well, and I was pleased to see it.
6. SELF-CENTERED PARENTS!! There really is nothing worse than people who justify their self-centeredness by claiming that their selfishness is just altruism in disguise. In TANGLEWOOD, we have two parents on the brink of divorce, and neither is demonized, neither is overly wicked, but selfishness really is the underlying organism that begins to pull the family apart. Indeed, that each parents would have dreams of their own – and thwarted dreams – allows the reader to see their actions from their perspective, and mourn their choices that led to this mess. Scaletta never preaches and leaves it up to the reader to make their own determinations about what, exactly, is going on with this family. Suffice to say, as Eric vainly tries to patch up the cracks in his home-life that his parents leave behind, he shows exactly what he is made of – and it is some tough stuff. Good on you, Eric.
7. ANNOYING LITTLE BROTHERS WHO ARE SECRETLY AWESOME! ‘Nuff said on that, too.
8. POSSIBLY CRAZY PULP SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS! As writer who sometimes writes science fiction, and is more possibly completely crazy….AND who really digs the old school, “Golden Age of Pulp Fiction” stuff, I loved this aspect of the story. And it made me want to cultivate my inner crazy-but-brilliant hermit. Yanno. For posterity.
9. MADCAP ADVENTURES! ON WHEELS! Everything is better when motors are involved. And when it’s motors in the hopes of rescuing a town from possibly-murderous fungi? SIGN ME UP!
Now, I have already purchased a copy for a Certain Nephew on his Certain Birthday, and will be snagging another for myself when Kurtis reads at the Red Balloon this Friday, but I want to encourage all of you to snag a copy now. Hell, get two – one for you and one for a kid.