Alistair Grimm’ Odditorium
By Gregory Funaro
(412 pgs) hardback
Disney Hyperion Press, Jan 2015
This book caught my eye more because of the strange title than any other reason. The cover is similar to several recently published junior fiction novels, and I do like the word play used throughout this book. This is longer than many junior fiction books but page size is smaller as well as font choice make this closer to a three hundred page normal sized novel.
Our main character is a young boy of twelve or thirteenish named Grubb. I do not know if this is an intentional reference on the author’ part towards other young boys given names like Ged and Odd, simple names that hide their true identity, or if it was the author’ love of word play, but I did like it. Grubb is apprentice to a nasty chimney sweep in London England, sometime in the betwixt times of the industrial revolution and horse drawn carriages. The story is a little like Howels Moving Castle (the novel version NOT the anime one) meets an Edwardian Indiana Jones.
This story will appeal to boys probably more than girls, but there is a wonderful, brave, young female trickster character named Cleona. There are many, many, quirky characters (the Scottish attack pocket watch, chocolate loving fairies, and robot bats and samurai to name a few) Great world building, and fascinating ideas (magic as science is a theme I do like ). I even like the rather chaotic and strange way the characters go about getting from here to there.
I guess my main problem with this story is it one giant set up for the next book. Apart from a few great action sequences, the reader stumbles and falls through the story trying to understand what is going on and very little is solved or accomplished. Explanations are an afterthought and I feel that many of my middle grade readers will get frustrated with the sometimes archaic language and choppy mish-mash of worlds and archetypes (European, to Japanese, to Native American). But then again I have been wrong before about what will appeal to our younger readers.
Parental note, as far as objectionable material for young readers, there is none. Well, a few street hoodlums get their soul sucked out and turned to dust, and Grubbs’ foster father is not a nice guy. Generally the story is age appropriate and quirky enough to keep readers reading, even while scratching their heads.