When a bizarre ritual goes haywire, Kids Say the Darndest Things meets Lord of the Flies.
In St. Polonius-on-the-Fjord, citizens over 12 partake in the annual commemoration of the town’s founding by eating of the Sacred Bear Liver. They engage in this loathsome rite to avoid falling into a monthslong slumber, a fate suffered by the original settlers. This year, white Jean Huddy participates for the first time but secretly barfs up her portion. Then, against all odds, everyone over 12 who did sample the liver falls fast asleep, leaving only the town’s children—including Jean and Isara, a 13-year-old boy of Thai heritage—awake and obligated to assume their parents’ jobs. The author mines a few laughs from kids’ performing adult work, but some aspects are sinister: the mayor’s xenophobic son revels in his tyranny; the town bullies are strict law enforcers. An unconvincing mystery subplot involves a startling revelation about what happened to the grown-ups, the discovery of a secret formula to reverse the sleep, and Jean’s and her friends’ frantic scramble to interpret and use it to awaken the sleepers. Themes abound in this political satire, with its “Sleeping Beauty” and Shakespearean overtones, including clueless adults, governmental corruption, shady corporate dealings, usurpation of power, anti-immigration sentiments, unethical science, and animal cruelty. Savvy readers may glean some hints about the current charged political scene. These disparate storylines coalesce uneasily.
Mildly amusing, with a silly, stomach-turning premise conveying sober concepts. (Fiction. 10-12)