In book one of a new fantasy series for middle schoolers, a boy’s sour perspective on life changes during an unexpected encounter with giants, dragons, trolls, and other mythical creatures.
Mom is on a prolonged sales trip in China; Dad is deployed to the Middle East; and Brodie Adkins, age 12 and angry about his parents’ divorce, has been sent to Key West, Florida, to spend the summer with an uncle he’s never met. After Brodie’s plane lands, he is whisked away by a troll cabbie to Monstrovia, a “crazy place not on any map of Florida, the United States or the World.” Uncle Jasper turns out to be a lawyer famous for defending “Monsters, Fictional Folk, etc.” who counts Dracula among his clients and drives a dragon with a bathtub sidecar. Brodie hangs on to his skepticism and keeps his emotional distance until he is caught up in the case of Jack, accused of murdering a giant and stealing certain precious items. Jack’s sister insists he’s innocent, but it doesn’t bode well that the judge and jury are giants. The author deftly weaves these “Jack and the Beanstalk” elements into a parallel world where pixies are pesky reporters, the district attorney is a 14-foot-tall Perry Mason look-alike, the goose with the golden eggs takes the stand, and Jack’s missing father and mother become keys to the verdict. As Brodie becomes invested in the outcome, he puts aside his own grievances and fears (although he’s still not crazy about the giant spiders), assists his uncle in court, and begins to understand the roots of his own anger and mistrust. That the summer will be a life-changer for the troubled youth isn’t hard to predict, but Newhouse (A Bite Before Christmas, 2016, etc.) goes about it with imagination, humor—often the mild, gross-out kind—and a solid awareness of challenges faced by many young adolescents, while avoiding cloying plot strands. How affirmation and positive reinforcement can effect change may be the unsubtle takeaway here, but the author, a former educator, delivers it with informed empathy and gleeful wit.
An inventive and surprisingly coherent mix of monsters, mystery, courtroom drama, and real-life family dynamics.