In this middle-grade fantasy novel, an 11-year-old boy descends into a consumerist hell to save his parents, himself and the world.
On vacation with his museum-obsessed dad and his flea market–crazed mother, all Tito really wants to do is drive straight to Nature World. (He craves nature, but adults are standing in his way; the morals aren’t exactly subtle.) During an unplanned stop by Sanguine Lake, the family finds a slime-filled lake, a ghost town and TitanMart, the retail leviathan that’s pushing an unlikely toy craze: Gourdon, a stumpy, green doll made out of a gourd. Everyone wants one, including Tito’s dad, who vanishes into the creepy, seemingly infinite depths of TitanMart, with Tito’s mom soon to follow. As the adults flit around him like weak-willed patsies, Tito sets off to save them, accompanied by Eugene, a benevolent genie he has conjured out of hotel toiletries, and guided by coded messages from a mysterious redheaded girl. TitanMart has even more levels than Dante’s Inferno—too many, perhaps, making this fast-paced book feel repetitive at times—all of them as baldly allegorical as the Italian original. Aisle one is filled with fat, lazy children being force-fed grease and sugar in front of televisions. Aisle two gleams with the promise of a perfect home—and with menacing cleaning supplies. Hutton gives his tween readers a lot of credit: He knows they’ll see the danger in Preferred Customer Cards even before they turn into snakes and they’ll recognize the common (here, sinister) sales gimmickry that Tito confronts as he moves further into the belly of the retail beast. The complicated plot involves government–corporation collusion, which requires more than your average level of news awareness. The humor, however, aims right for tweens’ sweet spot: goo, poo, vomit, snot, the full panoply of disgusting, embarrassing excretions. Together it makes a smart, fun read.
Successfully mixes heavy-handed lessons on consumer awareness with tween-approved toilet jokes and just a smidge of romance.