In the United State of Earth, where difference is a disease and creativity is a crime, Norbert cracks a joke—big mistake.
Seventh-grader Norbert Riddle lives a dreary life in Loving Leader’s authoritarian regime, unsuccessfully searching for his parents since they disappeared seven years ago. When he impetuously performs an impression of Loving Leader for his classmates, the Truth Police descend, and Norbert is exiled to “the Astro-Nuts prison on planet Zorquat Three.” Clocking in at 300-plus pages with little real action or humor, this attempt at a humorous twist on the dystopian genre falls short across the board. With just a glimpse of the dictatorship compared to the vast majority of the book describing the prison, some readers will have a difficult time inhabiting Norbert’s perspective—is an ice cream sundae unusual because it’s breakfast or because it’s something he’s never had before? Stilted phrasing, particularly to create tension at the end of chapters, backfires and makes the text drag. Constant use of language casually dismissive of mental diversity assumes an outmoded sensibility. Primary characters are described by hair color and have (paper-) white skin in the illustrations.
Not nearly as nonconformist—or funny—as the title promises. (Dystopian adventure. 8-12)