“Catastrophe is the soul of the theater” in Donnelly’s middle-grade debut.
Sid is a precocious young white boy from the Florida Panhandle trying to rescue his beloved children’s theater, the Juicebox. He brings his best friend, Folly, an African-American boy who is the type of kid who can “sell sharks to the ocean” and “says wearing a bow tie reminds him of his life’s purpose,” along for the ride. In cahoots with the boys is Juicebox newcomer Jelly Baby, a Cuban-American puppeteer whose real name is Juliana. When Folly’s newest business scheme accidentally lands sensitive documents in their laps, the kids think they have just the ticket to secure the funds the theater needs to stay open. Chapters are written in prose but presented as a script with act and scene designations, a clever choice in theory but that in practice is often confusing, especially when the act and scene order are rebooted awkwardly just as the climax nears. The climax itself is reminiscent of Scooby Doo, as the meddling kids improbably catch the bad guy and manage to save the theater in a foregone but unlikely conclusion that may test even the most credulous readers. Despite this, Sid’s first-person, fourth-wall–breaking narration, full of amusing similes and asides, carries the day.
Conspiratorial theatrics and all-around good fun. (Fiction. 9-12)