Tracey Neithercott’s first book was written by hand and illustrated with some really fancy colored pencils. It was highly acclaimed by her mother. Now, she writes YA stories of friendship, love, murder, and magic. (None of which she illustrates—you’re welcome.) She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, who suggests improving her novels by adding Star […]
This autumn, Christopher Healy, author of the Hero’s Guide books—which made me chuckle uncontrollably in public—released the first novel in an all-new rollicking Middle Grade series: A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem: A Dastardly Plot.
It’s 1883—the Age of Invention! In the back of an unassuming New York City pickle shop, twelve-year-old Molly Pepper and her mother Cassandra Pepper create inventions that could change the world! Except the World’s Fair won’t let them participate because they’re women. However, when a crazed inventor with a robot army and a mind-melting death machine tries to take New York City hostage, only Molly, her mother, and her new friend Emmett can save the day.
This novel brims with Healy’s characteristic humor. Over-the-top villains! Over-the-top misunderstandings! Over-the-top puns! Over-the-top accents! After giving Prince Charming the comedic treatment in the Hero’s Guide series, Healy now hilariously reinterprets several famous historical personalities, including Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, and Thomas Edison (who apparently has a particular penchant for tap dancing).
While the Hero’s Guide books thrived on group dynamics, Healy takes a more intimate approach in A Dastardly Plot, focusing on the daughter-mother relationship between Molly and Cassandra. Although there are plenty of plot twists that separate mom and daughter, it was refreshing to read a novel where the parent character gets to contribute to the adventure without being fully shuffled aside. This doesn’t take away from Molly’s agency; if anything it reinforces it. Cassandra has a brilliant intellect, but Molly is usually the one handling the daily practicalities and life challenges.
Molly’s developing friendship with Emmett also drives the story. A Chinese-American boy who works as Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant–and an unwitting courier for the most fearsome gangs of New York City–Emmett must battle inner demons (metaphorically) and outer robots (literally).
With this focus on two key character relationships, Healy’s narrative scope is perhaps more limited here than in the Hero’s Guide books; we stay with Molly, rather than jumping between characters in different places. However, this novel is more ambitious in the social issues it addresses. Healy highlights the struggles of women overshadowed by their male colleagues, and Molly befriends several characters based on real female inventors from the late 1800s, including Margaret Knight and Hertha Marks.
Emmett’s struggles as a Chinese-American also highlight issues of racism, immigration, and belonging. Emmett feels isolated in America, with the story unfolding a year after the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned all Chinese laborers from entering the United States. However, he also feels disconnected from his Chinese ancestry, as he has spent his entire life in America and speaks only English.
By entwining issues of sexism and racism into the otherwise zany shenanigans of the plot, Healy keeps his characteristic charm while underscoring darker aspects of history that remain all-too-prevalent today. This blend of mad-cap historical adventure with serious social issues might prove a growing trend in Middle Grade literature—Daniel José Older’s Dactyl Hill Squad has it too. Both Healy and Older are managing a fascinating balancing act, writing books that recognize the seriousness of our cultural moment while keeping the humor, wonder, and warmth of classic children’s literature.
Healy’s new series is poised to continue in the sequel, The Treacherous Seas (expected September 2019), which promises nautical—and perhaps even ‘chilling’ Antarctic—adventure for Molly and Emmett.
Guest Review by Russell F. Hirsch
Hardcover, 468 pages Published September 25th 2018 by Europa Editions Source: Editor Disclaimer: It is 2:15 a.m. and I am only partially responsible for the following. The majority of the responsibility goes to the night. So, this is the back copy of A Winter’s Promise: Where once there was unity, vastly different worlds now exist. Over […]
Paperback, 240 pages Published May 3rd 2018 by Orion Children’s Books Source: Publisher She looked at the soft sky. Only a few minutes before, it had been simple, clear, and beautiful, but now she felt all summer leaning its weight against the house, breathing a hot and wolfish breath at her. Margaret Mahy’s books formed a […]
Hardcover, 96 pages Published September 4th 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Source: Publisher First Generation collects (as the cover so helpfully states) a group of 36 people who weren’t born in America but chose to make it their home. In one page spreads, the volume explores how these individuals have contributed to America economy […]
Crafty Llama by Mike Kerr, Renata Liwska (Illustrations) Hardcover, 32 pages Expected publication: October 2nd 2018 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books Source: Publisher Extremely adorable. A gentle book that celebrates craft and friendship. Kids who like animals are bound to love this book about making things, having friends, and being warm. Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience […]
So, last summer, a curious little picturebook arrived at our store, just in time for start of school jitters. I picked it up, read the title, and remembered how nerve-wracking September tended to be for me. Going back to school did not necessarily mean seeing your friends again–sometimes it meant your friends would be shuffled […]
Hardcover, 544 pages Published February 27th 2018 by Random House Books for Young Readers Source: Publisher It has taken me a while to read Tess because of life and other incidences that keep me from reading in peace. I read Tess in spare moments, moments were I needed the book the most. I hesitate to call […]
Hello, hello, readers! It’s been a while since I posted! Hope you’ve all been well! The good news is I’m finally done my second draft of my Boyband WIP, which means I can finally concentrate on reading good books and telling you all about them. The first thing about this post? I’m not actually talking […]
The Civil War meets dinosaurs in Daniel José Older’s latest novel, Dactyl Hill Squad. You heard that right. Civil War + Dinosaurs—a Middle Grade adventure that mashes American history with pre-history. Older is a favorite of ours here at The Book Wars. Check out our reviews of his Bone Street Rumba series, his YA fantasy […]
Be Everything at Once: Tales of a Cartoonist Lady Person by Dami Lee Paperback, 160 pages Published August 7th 2018 by Chronicle Books Source: Raincoast Books Dami Lee’s debut collects memoir-ish comic strips about a woman trying to figure out where she fits. Lee documents her experiences as a Korean in America for the first time, trying […]