In Tumbler’s (The Inlooker, 2014, etc.) middle-grade fantasy novel, a group of teens receives special training from a mysterious race of dwarfs.
Thirteen-year-old English boy Sebastian and his younger brother, Bart, have come to Costa Blanca, Spain, to spend the summer with their grandparents. The rambunctious boys are a handful for Terry and Sandra, even with tennis, swimming and soccer available for the kids’ enjoyment. Terry, a former police detective, decides to occupy Seb with a research project on UFOs and then reveals to his grandson his belief that people less than 5 feet tall are related to space aliens. Seb begins trailing short people and eventually befriends one named Skip, a representative of the secret Sombrella Syndicate. Skip recruits Seb to join a small group of students studying exotic subjects in classes with names such as “Rocking and a’bonding” and “What Goes Around Comes Around.” The teen quickly learns that the Sombrella teachers are telepathic and that his fellow students, including the lovely Maisie, come from all over the world. Their hands-on courses involve flying UFOs, digging a high-speed train tunnel and visiting ancient battlefields. Seb wonders why he’s been chosen for this special education, and Tumbler explores this mystery in this imaginative, heartfelt tale. At one point, Seb cheekily wonders if he and his classmates will be “used as slave labour by Sombrella,” but when the kids use futuristic gizmos such as a gravity-defying phaser, it becomes clear that the children’s education is Sombrella’s top priority. Frequently, Tumbler’s teachers go on historical or technical tangents that younger readers may have trouble following; the Buster Cruster machine, for example, is said to filter rocks’ “pulverised and chemically-separated components into segregated containers.” The author combines such passages with an easygoing plot that has no true central conflict, which makes the narrative feel as if it’s aimed at both adult and middle-grade audiences. Nevertheless, its noble messages of environmentalism and empathy ring loudly throughout its second half.
A loose sci-fi adventure that often wanders, but always into delightful territory.