A microbiological adventure centered on a little boy bacterium and a girl virus living in a young human boy’s fluffy, four-legged best friend.
With his first book for children, Lyen (Alma’s Journey, 2012) takes young readers inside the digestive system of a dog named Pembroke, where the microbes lead very humanlike lives. Arthur Bacterium meets Patty Virus when she walks into his class at school. Despite her being different from Arthur’s bacteria classmates, Arthur is kind and welcoming, and the two become fast friends. In Pembroke’s colon, where Arthur and his parents live, most of the microbes are “good bacteria” living in symbiosis with the canine. The bacteria fear viruses since they can make Pembroke sick by infecting and destroying other cells (like them), but Patty is a Nelson virus, a good strain that Arthur’s father Louie, a professor of virology, says descends from the viruses that lived in Lord Admiral Nelson, who died during the Battle of Trafalgar. Excessive or bizarre factual additions like this frequently reveal the overly elaborate nature of the authorial conceit and can occasionally be a source of conflict or error in the novel. The professor suggests that Patty and Arthur leave the colon and cautiously investigate different areas of Pembroke’s anatomy, so the pair set out in a kayak filled with supplies along the “Great Brown River.” After a thorough tour of the intestine, they muster the courage to visit, through various veins, arteries and channels, the stomach, the liver—or “Hepatic Mountain,” which is particularly well-described—the pancreas, circulatory and cardiovascular systems, the brain and even “The Great Expanse” outside the pup. Although exhilarating, the idea of Patty knowing how to return the two microscopic organisms back to Pembroke’s digestive track is a bit too implausible, as is her knowledge of human affairs and the generally convoluted depiction of the relationships among bacteria, viruses and organ systems. The book is most illuminating and charming when it stays within the metaphor, describing the personal roles and experiences of Arthur, his friends and family. The glossary helps with understanding the microbiology terms, but the story is unnecessarily complicated and long, and there are frequent unsavory descriptions of fecal gases, smells and fluids.
An amusing story stretched too thin.