A seemingly insignificant clue leads three young would-be detectives to mind-blowing adventures in their outwardly ordinary suburban neighborhood.
Casting about for some small mystery to solve, the Exploration-Mystery-Unbelievable Club—newly founded out of boredom by preteen Stuart, his mildly OCD best bud, Brian, and tag-along little sister, Violet—starts with a loose paint chip. In no time, they are exploring a high-tech underground lair, discovering that Stuart’s pooch, Ferdinand, isn’t at all what he seems and becoming Earth’s first line of defense against an incoming extraterrestrial fleet. Along with creating mildly fizzy chemistry for his squabbling trio, Bolling, creator of the satiric comic strip Tom the Dancing Bug, keeps the surprises coming—with occasional pauses while Brian goes off to wash his hands or practice his didgeridoo. Stuart’s matter-of-fact narrative is strewn with Violet’s cartoon “photos” of important evidence or characters posing hammily. Turning out to be cats and therefore vulnerable to Super Soaker blasts and passing balls of yarn, the aliens are driven off handily without, happily, drawing unwanted parental attention. Stuart follows up with a handy chart of ways to repulse future attacking alien animals, plus hints about upcoming episodes.
A credible bit of sleuthing and a spectacular escalation factor give this opener a bit of bounce. (Mystery/fantasy. 8-10)