Four children of complicated parentage live in a car on a tropical island and hunt for a place to call home.
Kim, the oldest at 11, and Kimo, Toby, and Pippa have lived in the car since Kim was in first grade. Dr. Fitzgerald, father of all but Kimo, moved them into it to facilitate their work as his forced research assistants. After teaching Kim to drive—cans taped to her shoes help her reach the pedals—he abandoned them. They’re relieved he’s gone. Days, they attend school; nights, they sleep in the car, parked at the beach. The forest harboring deadly, blood-sucking iguanas excepted, the island’s a stereotypical tourist destination. The boys’ mother, Tina, a vain, selfish country singer, drops off money occasionally; the girls’ mother, Maya, a miserly, crooked stockbroker, gives less. The children view both with mild dislike. Harsh circumstances and their own lack of affect make the children’s adventures more grueling than enjoyable, more improbable than imaginative. Child abandonment, homelessness, and cruelty are portrayed as trivial yet rendered in fairly realistic detail by a Dahl-esque narrator whose whimsical tone is out of step with events. Misplaced humor, often adult-oriented, leaves a sour aftertaste, as when, played for laughs, Maya’s sent to jail. The plot feels at war with itself, fantasy clashing with realism unsuccessfully.
Here's hoping subsequent volumes find a better balance. (Fantasy. 8-12)