Eleven-year-old Archer B. Helmsley enlists his best friend, Oliver Glub, and Adélaïde, the new student from France, to help him track down his explorer grandparents in Antarctica—despite the fact that Archer’s mother confines him to two places: his museumlike home and his school.
After a preface promising that Archer is not one of those “perfect boys” who “live in perfect houses owned by perfect parents” and are “perfectly dull,” Part 1 sets up the story of Archer’s restricted life, its tedium mitigated by Archer’s conversations with taxidermic animals and by clandestine meetings with Oliver. Part 2 brings Adélaïde into the picture as an independent, peg-legged ex-ballerina, and Part 3 is called “The Journey Begins.” The story is full of humor: the farcical, larger-than-life, domineering women of home and school; slapstick scenes involving Archer’s clumsiness and Oliver’s unfortunate habit of running with his eyes closed; whimsical wordplay, as in Oliver’s plaintive request, “I’ve only had far-death experiences and I’d prefer to keep it that way.” It’s a bit long, considering the number of not-quite-eventful events, but it’s also amusing, heartwarming, and zany. Though not as fast-paced as a Roald Dahl story, it is similar in terms of its magical realism and some absurdly naughty or nice characters. Archer, however, realistically shows both kindness and mean-spiritedness as he pursues his quest. The debut author also provides delicate, full-color illustrations throughout.
Readers will eventually sigh in relief with Archer and friends. (Adventure. 7-11)