The award-bedizened illustrator offers up his first novel.
Mildly offbeat setting aside, it all starts on recognizable ground. Son of the manager of a seedy theme park dubbed Fairy Tale Place, Augie faces both bullying from local thug Hogg Wills and summer school because he’s failed Creative Arts (“Who fails Creative Arts?”). Also, dazzling classmate Juliana has joined the park’s colorful cast of costumed “hosts” as Cinderella, and along with allergy-prone best buddy Britt, he discovers that building a treehouse—in a tree, at least—is harder than it seems. Readers set by this opening for a moderately amusing summer idyll are in for a series of unsettling shocks as Smith then proceeds to vigorously knock expectations askew. He chucks in sudden death, a rash of missing pets, initially garbled but increasingly coherent and revealing messages from the great beyond, clairvoyant visions, robbery, lycanthropy and even mysterious government agents. It takes Smith to keep what could become a hot mess percolating happily along toward a just conclusion. Portraits, collages, hand-drawn comics and other illustrations done in a range of styles add characteristically postmodern notes to this roller-coaster ride.
Great fun, with hardly a trope or theme left unspun. (Fantasy. 10-13)