Plucky, sometimes-mean children come together to defeat diabolical hospital administrators and evil headmasters.
When Tom gets hit on the head with a cricket ball, he is sent to a horrible hospital, with clueless doctors, a horrid matron, and a porter with “the most monstrous face he had ever seen.” In the middle of the night, Tom follows the secretive children in his ward and discovers the Midnight Gang, the mysterious society of child patients who have nighttime adventures. With the porter’s help, the children, all apparently white, create a North Pole adventure and a whiz-bang balloon journey. The excited prose, supplemented by a variety of typefaces and Ross’ not-quite–Quentin Blake illustrations, describes disgusting school dinners of “deep-fried otter” and adults who revel in “a touch of cruelty.” Despite clear Roald Dahl parallels, Walliams’ nastiness and yuck aren’t accompanied by Dahl’s charm or wicked wit. The humor is found in “plump-looking” George’s candy eating, Robin’s and Amber’s disabilities, and—unexpected from the author of The Boy in the Dress (2009)—Matron’s cruel insistence on dressing Tom in a pink frilly nightdress. An eventual lesson about bigotry against ugly people is undercut by prose that delights in describing the porter as “pongy” and having “rotten and misshapen teeth.”
An entertaining tale that will definitely find an audience, but fans of icky, vicious comedy deserve better. (Fiction. 9-11)